Lakers 118, Hawks 110
LOS ANGELES (AP)Kobe Bryant is quite familiar with the exquisite pain of playing against Ron Artest's defense. He's grateful that frustration now belongs to his opponents - including Joe Johnson, the first top scorer to get locked down by the Lakers' new defensive stopper.
Bryant had 41 points and eight rebounds, Andrew Bynum added 21 points and Artest extinguished Johnson's outstanding start in the Lakers' 118-110 victory over the Hawks on Sunday night.
Although Bryant took charge offensively while Los Angeles ran away with 18 consecutive points in the third quarter, Kobe directed the credit to Artest, who jumped into his defensive assignment after Johnson scored 18 points in the first quarter.
"We picked up our intensity, and it all started with No. 37," Bryant said of Artest. "He picked up the energy level defensively, and I told him the game was on him. I felt like the energy really changed the whole complexity of the game, and we all kind of rallied behind him."
Lamar Odom had 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists for the defending NBA champions, who bounced back from a loss to Dallas with an overwhelming second half in Atlanta's first defeat. Bryant capped the 97th 40-point game of his career with eight points in the final minutes to hold off the Hawks' last rally.
"Joe started early, but Kobe is able to keep it going," Bynum said. "He just made Kobe mad, which is not very smart."
Johnson scored 27 points for the Hawks, who opened a four-game road trip with an embarrassing third quarter before a late run made the score respectable. Los Angeles made a 22-3 run in the third, with Bryant scoring 19 points in the quarter.
"I really couldn't get a good look (in the second half), and Artest wasn't helping because he was faceguarding me," Johnson said. "But we just didn't have great ball movement like we had in the first half. Everybody just started playing kind of one-on-one, and that's typical of a young team on the road. Everybody thinks they've got what it takes to get us back in the game."
The Lakers' home loss to the Mavericks on Friday night left coach Phil Jackson concerned about everything from their pick-and-roll defense to their overall intensity. Jackson postulated that Los Angeles' ring ceremony earlier in the week distracted from his team's focus, and he wasn't pleased by either of the Lakers' last two practices.
"We can't complete a full game yet," Jackson said. "Our focus isn't there yet for a full game, obviously."
Los Angeles also played its third straight game without forward Pau Gasol, who's growing frustrated with the slow pace of his recovery after straining his right hamstring three weeks ago.
But starting with a dunk by Bryant midway through the third quarter, the Lakers got into their ideal offensive flow for the first time this season while holding Atlanta scoreless for more than five minutes.
The run was highlighted by a four-basket sequence that had the crowd on its feet.
After Bryant made a graceful behind-the-back pass to Artest for a fast-break dunk, Odom threw an alley-oop pass to Bynum for another slam. Artest then got loose for a breakaway dunk, and Odom capped it with a midcourt steal and a pass to Bynum for an uncontested jam that put Los Angeles up 90-70.
"That all goes back to Ron and what he was able to do with turnovers and deflections," Odom said. "That's going to be a big part of any success we have."
Bryant, Odom and Bynum all returned to the game after Atlanta trimmed a 24-point deficit to 14 midway through the fourth with help from rookie point guard Jeff Teague, who made another strong impression with 12 points in the final quarter of the Hawks' fourth straight loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Jamal Crawford added 17 points and Mike Bibby had 15 for the Hawks, whose struggles against top opponents have been a focus of coach Mike Woodson's improvement plans this season. But the Hawks couldn't keep up with the Lakers' transition game, and they grew increasingly sloppy with each big play by Bryant and the Lakers in the third quarter.
"We were so sluggish with the basketball and throwing it all over the gym," Woodson said. "They had a lot to do with it, because they got up in us defensively and we went the other way."
Gasol, the Lakers' second-leading scorer and leading rebounder last year, will accompany the Lakers on their two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Houston, but still might not be ready to play.
NOTES: Johnson scored 14 of the Hawks' first 17 points in the first eight minutes, and he added a four-point play on a foul from Bryant moments later. ... Gasol missed just one regular-season game last season. ... Courtside fans included Ryan Seacrest, David Beckham (about 2 1/2 hours after the Los Angeles Galaxy's playoff game ended), the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and actor Andy Garcia.