LOS ANGELES (AP) - A day after Kobe Bryant's impassioned tirade about the importance of keeping the Los Angeles Lakers together, they gave a performance that amplified his every point.
Bryant scored 28 points, Andrew Bynum had 14 points and 19 rebounds, and the Lakers roared to a 30-point lead early in the second quarter before holding on for a 103-92 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
Pau Gasol had 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first game since Bryant criticized the Lakers' front office for allowing Gasol to dangle amid the trade rumors that always surround this franchise. Neither star appeared distracted by the Lakers' latest off-court saga, however: Sharp from the opening tip, Los Angeles reeled off a 37-4 run after Raymond Felton's game-opening 3-pointer for Portland.
``The first half is probably the best we've played, particularly defensively,' Bryant said. ``It was a combination of us doing our job defensively and them being off.'
The Lakers led by double digits for the last 40 minutes of their final home game before the All-Star break. For all their public disagreements and inconsistent play, they're still comfortably in the Western Conference playoff picture at 19-13 near the midway point of the 66-game regular season.
Bryant hopes general manager Mitch Kupchak noticed.
After Sunday's loss in Phoenix, Bryant said he wished Kupchak would decide whether to trade Gasol because nearly three months of uncertainty and rumors are affecting the Spanish 7-footer's play. The season began with the Lakers agreeing on a preseason deal to send Gasol to Houston in a three-team trade for Chris Paul, only to have the NBA reject it.
``I'm glad he showed his support for me, to be sure,' said Gasol, who has 10 straight double-doubles despite the distractions. ``We just need to make sure we're together on this, and we need everybody to be on the same page. We'd all like the peace of mind that we're not going to be moved, but we can't guarantee that.'
Kupchak responded by issuing a statement 45 minutes before Monday's game, saying he had to explore all trade options to improve the Lakers, even if Bryant didn't like it. Bryant initially refused to rehash the rant after beating the Blazers, but eventually spoke about being a team leader.
``I can tell when (Gasol) is down, and when enough is enough,' Bryant said. ``He went through the first phase and kind of played through that and came out of that, and then he gets hit with another one. You can tell he's down, and it's a little hard to overcome. We've got two big games coming up ... and I don't want him thinking about it.'
LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum scored 18 points apiece but the Blazers couldn't quite recover from the lowest-scoring first quarter in club history. After scoring seven points in the first 12 minutes, Portland got no closer than 10 points late in its fourth loss in six games.
``We definitely started out slow and sluggish,' Aldridge said. ``We didn't have the same sense of urgency that they had, and it showed from the beginning. They dominated inside with their bigs, and they had great ball movement. I didn't play well tonight. We picked it up in the second half, but it wasn't enough.'
The Lakers scored 21 consecutive points during that opening surge and went on to their 14th victory in the last 15 home games. One night after giving up a season-high 63 points in the first half of a discouraging loss at Phoenix, the Lakers yielded a season-low 30 to Portland.
Former Blazers guard Steve Blake hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in his biggest offensive game since joining the Lakers before last season.
Portland gradually trimmed the Lakers' lead to 84-74 in the fourth quarter, but Bryant and Derek Fisher returned to the lineup and hit big shots. Lakers fans briefly chanted ``World Peace! World Peace!' after Metta World Peace hit four of six free throws when Portland fouled him repeatedly in the final minutes.
``We couldn't have gotten out to a worse start than we did,' said Marcus Camby, who had 13 rebounds. ``It seemed like we couldn't buy a bucket down there. ... I think we played better in the second half, but when you play with a 22-point cushion, it's really hard to come back.'
Portland went scoreless for more than five minutes after Felton's 3-pointer on its opening possession, missing six straight shots. Los Angeles missed its first six shots, but quickly established dominance down low with its two 7-footers.
The Blazers' deficit got ugly while they missed 19 of 21 shots spanning the first two quarters, including another 8 minutes of scoreless play from midway through the first quarter until Batum's three-point play early in the second. Los Angeles went from a 16-7 lead to a 37-7 margin.
The first quarter also was the best defensive performance of the season by the Lakers.
NOTES: Bryant got his seventh technical foul of the season in the fourth quarter for punching the ball away after an offensive foul. If Bryant gets 13 Ts in this shortened season, he will be suspended for one game. ... Fans near courtside included Ashton Kutcher, Anthony Kiedis, Robert Wuhl and directors Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay.
The Associated Press News Service
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