Kobe gives strong showing at Staples

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Starting from his pregame introduction, Kobe
Bryant received huge cheers in his home debut.

Bryant scored 21 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to an
87-72 win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, making
the team 3-0 since acquiring All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the offseason.

Fans cheered wildly when Bryant made his first jumper on an
assist by Shaquille O'Neal. They booed the referee on his behalf in
the closing minute when Bryant was called for traveling.

"It doesn't really help my game much, but playing at Staples
Center makes me feel more comfortable," said Bryant, who walked
out of the arena holding hands with wife Vanessa.

Bryant played 35 minutes -- two less than he did in his first
game of the season Saturday night in Phoenix, where he scored 15
points and was greeted by a mix of cheers and boos. He is awaiting
trial on sexual assault charges in Colorado.

"He looked pretty good," Warriors guard Avery Johnson said.
"Obviously, the explosion is not where it's probably going to be
at the end of the season, but he's making his move really strong to
the basket."

Bryant showed no ill effects from the sore right knee that kept
him out of the Lakers' season-opening win against Dallas. The last
time Bryant played back-to-back preseason games, he had a setback.

"My knee feels very good, it's doing surprisingly well," he
said. "I knew it felt strong at the beginning of the game. Last
night was kind of a test to see what type of moves I can make
offensively and defensively, so tonight I went in and played with
more confidence."

"Kobe is finding a pretty good stride," Lakers coach Phil
Jackson said. "His energy seems to be a lot better than it was a
week ago."

Clifford Robinson led the Warriors with 19 points. Calbert
Cheaney added 17 points and Erick Dampier had a career-high 23

"Damp's been absolutely unbelievable since day one of training
camp," Warriors coach Eric Musselman said. "He's come into this
season focused and he's done a great job playing his minutes. We
really didn't go to him a lot offensively, but he did a great job
on the backboards and did a solid job defensively as well."

All five Lakers starters scored in double figures for the third
consecutive game. O'Neal had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Malone had
16 points, Payton had 18 points and 11 assists and Devean George
had 12 points.

"Everybody is getting involved. Karl Malone and Gary said it
best, `On any given night, you better pick your poison," O'Neal
said. "Guys are moving the ball, they're playing very, very
unselfish. It's actually fun to watch."

Jackson compared the sluggish pace to playing in mud.

"We didn't play as clean or as pretty basketball as we'd like
to see," he said. "We're capable of playing down to a level.
That's always difficult because you want a team to play above their
level. Some nights you play there and you get mired in a game where
you can't break free."

The Warriors didn't offer much of a challenge against a team
they beat twice last season. But they no longer have leading
scorers Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, and the team is missing
starters Nick Van Exel and Troy Murphy to injuries, and Jason
Richardson to suspension.

Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean said he expects Van Exel
to return Wednesday, the same day Richardson's suspension ends.

"L.A.'s been scoring over 100 every game, and we held them to
87 and made them work for their points," Musselman said. "They're
a good team and they cause mismatch problems, but I think our
defensive matchups worked out pretty well."

The Lakers led by 11 at halftime, and twice stretched their lead
to 17 points in the third -- once on a fast-break slam dunk by
Bryant and the other on a jumper by O'Neal.

Cheaney got the Warriors within single digits at 55-46 on an
18-footer, but Malone, Bryant and Payton scored the Lakers' next
three baskets for a 61-46 lead with 3:19 to play. The trio also
assisted on each other's baskets in the spurt.

Golden State trailed by seven points early in the fourth, but
couldn't get close enough to put a scare into the Lakers.

Game notes
The Lakers have won eight of their last nine against Golden
State at Staples Center. ... Los Angeles leaves Monday for a
four-game trip. ... The Warriors play seven of their first eight
games at home. ... Serena and Venus Williams attended the game,
along with tennis rivals Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters of
Belgium. Serena and Clijsters sat courtside separately, while Venus
was stuck eight rows back. ... Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy came to
watch his namesake son play for the Warriors. Mike Jr. finished
with 10 points.

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