Before the Lakers and Clippers tipped off Friday, head coach Phil Jackson hinted that his team was headed towards a wacky night.
"I enjoy these games, I think they’re kind of fun for our fans but there’s always a little bit of dread involved in them because you never know what’s going to happen," Jackson said. "They always turn into something else than just a game."
That element PJax saw coming down the pike occurred with 28.8 seconds left in the game with the Lakers up 110-104.
Chris Kaman set a screen on Derek Fisher out past the 3-point line. There was a lot of contact. Next thing you know, Kaman is whistled for two technical fouls, Fisher is whistled for one and as Kaman is being ushered off the court he gestured to Fisher to meet him in the hallway after the game.
There was no old-fashioned fisticuffs afterward that we know of, although Matt Barnes asked Fisher if he wanted him to walk out of the arena with him to watch his back should Kaman be waiting for him. "What’s he going to do, shoot him with one of his bow and arrows? Give me a break," Kobe Bryant said, rolling his eyes.
"Everybody talks tough in this league. Nobody is a fighter."
There wasn't any fighting, but there was some dispute as to who was at fault when Fisher and Kaman collided. "I thought Derek came up high on his head," said Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro.
"I thought it was a pretty bad play on his part. Chris could have gotten hurt. There's no call, no reason for that. Chris was just setting a good screen, it was a legal screen and Fisher came up high with the elbow so the NBA will look at it and they'll make their decision." Jackson said quite the opposite, pointing out that it was Kaman who hit Fisher in the head.
"He doesn't take too kindly to that," Jackson said.
Fisher explained how he looked at the play. "You can't come and set moving screens the whole game and not expect there is going to be some times where you get tangled up with a guy," Fisher said. "To me, that's part of the game. Don't come screen if you don't want to get into a tangle."
The game was put away by the Lakers shortly before the Fisher-Kaman episode when Ron Artest stole the ball cleanly from an oncoming Blake Griffin who was going full speed towards the rim on a fastbreak with the Clippers down by just four with 39.9 seconds remaining.
It was Artest's third steal of the game, to go along with three blocks, five rebounds and 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
"He made some rather spectacular stops," said Jackson. "The one that he took the ball away from Blake in a breakaway that would have really narrowed the game down to a standstill was a big play for us. That's his forte. He's maybe the best at that."
The normally talkative Artest didn't speak after the game, leaving his teammate to marvel at his big game.
"His hands are incredible. He just has amazing hands," said Bryant. "He gets deflections and steals when you just don’t think it’s possible so I wasn’t really surprised. If the ball’s around him, it’s in jeopardy every time."
While Artest was the star on defense, Pau Gasol provided some highly-efficient offense, going 10-for-15 from the floor en route to 26 points.
It was the most points Gasol has scored since before the All-Star break, when he put up 30 in a loss to Cleveland and each point came with some extra motivation behind it. Gasol pledged $1,000 for each point scored Friday to go toward Direct Relief International's campaign to generate money to benefit the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
"It’s just creating awareness of how many people are suffering [in Japan]," Gasol said. "Obviously the natural disaster that they suffered was really rough, so I think that all the support that we can create and contribute, the better and I think this was a way for me to be involved."
Magic Johnson matched Gasol's donation, resulting in $52,000 raised by the pair by the night's end.
Jackson said he understood Gasol's intention, but wish he would have attached his donation to a statistic other than points scored.
"I don't think that's a good idea, I'm not particularly a fan of that but I am a fan of people giving money to charity," Jackson said. "But, I don't think point total should be the criteria ... Minutes could be [the measure] or perhaps even what's the differential is between the teams that you're playing ... It's not like a home run derby, basketball has to be played with a sense of right time, right thing."
Fourteen wins in 15 games since the All-Star break has vaulted the Lakers to the No. 2 record in the West and the No. 3 overall record in the league. They are five games behind San Antonio, the No. 1 team in the West, and a half game behind Chicago, the No. 1 team in the East, with 10 games left to play.
All of this winning has the team with some lofty goals in its sights.
"The rest of the season we will try to make a legitimate push for the No. 1 seed," said Andrew Bynum. "That's our goal."
Bynum had a solid, if not dominant, return to the court following his suspension. The Lakers big man finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in 33 minutes. That makes it seven straight double-doubles for the 7-footer.
"I feel fine," Bynum said. "I was a little tired to start the game. The first 10 minutes were a little tough, after that I was fine."
Bryant scored 37 points on an efficient 11-for-21 mark from the field.
He is now averaging 39.5 points while shooting 50 percent from the field, to go with 8.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his last two games, making his string of 10 consecutive games played without shooting better than 50 percent from the field (and dealt with a severe left ankle sprain) seem like a long time ago.
"I feel great," Bryant said after the game. "Those two days [since the Phoenix game] came at the right time. I was able to do my weights and do some stretching and therapy and massage and things like that and get ready to chase these guys tonight."
Bryant vowed his improved play was just the beginning.
"I’m just cranking it up," he said. "I’m starting to get into playoff mode, playoff form of being more aggressive."
The last time rookie Devin Ebanks played in a game was one month ago to the day Friday, ironically against the Clippers, as he's been sidelined with a stress fracture in his left tibia that was causing discomfort in his left knee.
Ebanks was in good spirits Friday, however, telling reporters he is scheduled to undergo a MRI on his leg Monday morning and if he's cleared he will practice later that day.
Is Southern California big enough for three NBA teams? Jackson doesn't seem to think so. The Lakers coach ripped the Sacramento Kings' plan to move to Anaheim on Friday. "What other metropolitan area has three teams in it? It's ridiculous to put another franchise in this market," Jackson said. "It just doesn't make sense to do that." Read the rest here.
Quote of the night: "I like that drama. It’s real dramatic. Is life really that dramatic?" -- Jackson when asked if he's thought about the possibility of ending his coaching career in the Finals in the same way he did 20 years ago when he came in; Lakers vs. Bulls.
Stats of the night: Eric Gordon started the game 0-for-11 before finishing 3-for-14 ... Bryant was 14-for-17 from the foul line, while the Clippers were 15-of-18 from the stripe as a team ... The Lakers bench was outscored 34-16 by the Clippers' reserves. The Lakers' second unit was 5-for-20 from the field while the Clippers' subs were 14-for-27 ... The Lakers won the season series 3-1.