By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:03 AM
The Los Angeles Lakers were in town on Tuesday night, and as is almost always a sure bet when the reigning NBA champions invade a city, celebrities - such as they are in the nation's capital - came out to watch Kobe Bryant and his mates do their thing, which in this instance was handling the Washington Wizards, 103-89.
At times Verizon Center sounded like the Lakers' home court, where Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington and Ice Cube, among others, often mingle while watching from ridiculously expensive floor seats. The District has nowhere near that entertainment star power, although some of the city's more high profile athletes descended upon Chinatown for what was more an event than a basketball game.
Included among that group were the Redskins' Donovan McNabb, Mike Sellers and DeAngelo Hall, all of whom received a Bronx cheer when shown on the Jumbotron, perhaps more an indictment on the state of their team than anything else. Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, the newest addition to the D.C. sports landscape, got polite applause. Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams was treated to some of the heartiest approval, other than Bryant of course.
"I'm very happy to see that," Bryant said of his many vocal endorsements, including chants of "MVP" when he was the foul line. "Especially in places where you play once, it's fun to put on a show for them."
While the sliver of Washington's athletic aristocracy may not have seen Bryant at his normally transcendent level early in the game, the rest of the Lakers more than did their part to offset a relatively uneven performance from the two-time Finals MVP who Wizards Coach Flip Saunders referred to as perhaps the most accomplished closer in the league. Los Angeles's starting front court of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest was particularly ruthless, accounting for 44 points on 16-for-27 shooting and 20 rebounds.
Gasol narrowly missed a triple-double with 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists while Odom in mostly understated fashion contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds, matching a game high. Los Angeles shot 45 percent as a team and got to the foul line 24 more times. That's where Bryant did some of his work through the first two and half quarters before unleashing a torrent of jumpers that help extended the lead to 22 points at the start of the final period.
After missing three straight foul shots, Bryant made the second of his four three-pointers with 3 minutes 56 seconds to play in the third for an 80-64 lead that prompted Saunders to call timeout. Wizards center JaVale McGee made a layup coming out of the break, but Bryant scored the next nine points consecutively, sinking a pair of three-pointers around three foul shots. Bryant finished with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the third quarter.
That production all but finished off the competitive portion of the game and left Lakers Coach Phil Jackson comfortable enough to go the rest of the way without Bryant, who wound up with 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 24 minutes despite a lethargic beginning that included hitting the outside of the twine on his first shot of the game and one free throw that barely made it to the rim.
Soon after the game, attention turned to trade rumors involving the Lakers, who reportedly are set to acquire forward Joe Smith as part of a three-way deal that would send guard Sasha Vujacic and a first-round pick in 2011 to New Jersey. The Nets would send forward Terrance Williams to Houston and receive a first-round selection in 2012.
Outside the visiting locker room, Jackson declined to comment on the pending transaction that would provide the Lakers much needed front-court assistance while center Andrew Bynum continues to work his way back to full health. Moving Vujacic also would rid the Lakers of $5.5 million in salary.
The overflow of media then slowly made its way into the Lakers locker room, with dozens of reporters trying to wedge into a cramped space. First the cameras gathered around Ron Artest, who spoke of Bryant and Gasol playing basketball with President Obama during the team's brief stay in Washington. No word on whether Bryant and Gasol took it easy on the President.
Then Gasol answered more questions to Spanish-speaking press than to the American media. Odom also did his share of interviews before Bryant finally finished dressing and girded for the deluge.
"Boring. The same questions every time," Bryant said with an impish grin. "Nah, I'm just kidding. It's fine. It's great for the game. Just continue to raise awareness about the game of basketball. . . .
"You'd much rather have this kind of attention that you're doing something right as opposed to having just a couple people show up."