LOS ANGELES (AP) -One moment after Steve Nash threw a pass into the stands in the third quarter, Lamar Odom found Kobe Bryant with an alley-oop pass for a behind-the-head dunk.
While the travel-weary Phoenix Suns played like a skipping record, Bryant's well-rested Lakers were perfectly in tune for their biggest win of the young season.
Bryant scored 29 points, Andrew Bynum had 26 points and 15 rebounds in his return from injury, and Los Angeles put the brakes on the Suns' fast start with a 121-102 victory Thursday night.
Josh Powell scored 14 points for the defending champions, who won their sixth straight and improved to 7-1 by handing the Suns their second loss. Los Angeles snapped the Suns' four-game winning streak, countering Phoenix's up-tempo style with strong defense and steady scoring from the low post to the transition game.
It all added up to an impressive performance for the Lakers in the first of two straight major tests, including Friday night's visit to Denver for a rematch of the Western Conference finals.
``We really did a good job focusing ourselves,' Bryant said. ``They do what they do, and we try to stop it. We showed a lot of control, a lot of maturity. It was a very disciplined game for us.'
After three days off to rest, Bynum looked sharp in his return to the Lakers' starting lineup after a two-game absence with a strained right elbow. Los Angeles still is without Pau Gasol, who won't make the trip to Denver while rehabilitating his strained hamstring, but the remaining Lakers have been mostly dominant through eight games.
``I got my legs back, and I'm fresh,' Bynum said. ``As far as the elbow goes, I'm going to continue getting treatment. It hurts a little bit, but it's going to be that way for a little while.'
Nash had 13 points and five assists for the Suns, who had their worst shooting night of the season. The two-time MVP sat out the final 15 1/2 minutes after getting little help from his teammates, who were clearly gassed after playing at home on Wednesday night.
Phoenix's only two losses this season came against last summer's NBA finalists - but Los Angeles was the Suns' seventh stop in the past 10 days, and it showed.
``We knew (this game) was a great test for us,' Nash said. ``Unfortunately, we just didn't have the legs tonight to give them a good shot, so we can look back and throw this one away. We didn't give them any resistance tonight. Back-to-backs happen, but the seven games in 10 days in seven cities just caught up with us.'
Amare Stoudemire endured a 2-for-15 shooting night, while Grant Hill managed just nine points. Jason Richardson missed all five of his 3-point attempts while scoring only five points for the NBA's highest-scoring team, although the reserves had 21 in the final 5:45 to help Phoenix reach 100 for the 10th time this season.
Jared Dudley led the Suns with 14 points, but they failed to match the 1980-81 club's franchise-best 9-1 start. The Suns made just 36.5 percent of their shots (38 for 104) after never going lower than 45.5 percent this season.
``They have a really good team, and now with Bynum back, it's just tough matchups all around,' Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. ``They just took us out of everything we tried to do. We miss a dunk, and they come back with a three-point play. We miss an open shot, and then they come down with a 3-point shot. They're a great basketball team. I don't know if they have a weakness, after looking around.'
In the first half, Los Angeles frequently played at something approaching the Suns' favored breakneck tempo. The Lakers were better at it than Phoenix - but they also were better at slowing it down and getting the ball inside to Bynum and Bryant, who has excelled as a low-post scorer this season.
After Bryant's 12 first-quarter points put the Lakers ahead early, Los Angeles scored the final eight points of the first half to take a 59-45 lead. Phoenix had just five assists on its 17 first-half field goals - nine fewer baskets than the Lakers.
After Odom's alley-oop to Bryant put the Lakers up 80-55 in the third, Shannon Brown punctuated the win with consecutive high-flying dunks in the lane midway through the fourth quarter, putting Los Angeles up by 26.
NOTES: Lakers coach Phil Jackson earned his 1,048th victory, tying Charlotte's Larry Brown for fifth-most in NBA history. ... Gentry and Jackson both expressed surprise at New Orleans coach Byron Scott's firing earlier in the day. Los Angeles and the Suns both routed the Hornets in the past week, but both coaches thought Scott had earned more time to figure out his club's rotation. ... Richardson and Los Angeles' Sasha Vujacic got offsetting technical fouls 4.3 seconds before halftime for a confrontation after Richardson's hard foul on Bryant. ... The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Zac Efron, Heather Locklear, George Lopez and Eliza Dushku were among the courtside celebrities.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved