By Greg Beacham
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
While Duncan hit a milestone during yet another solid game, an ailing Bryant was reminded of his basketball mortality.
Duncan had 13 points and 11 rebounds, Cory Joseph scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers 93-80 Friday night for their third straight victory in California.
Duncan scored his 25,000th point in the first half, becoming the 19th player to reach the milestone. With balanced offence and solid defence on Bryant, San Antonio pulled away in the fourth quarter for its eighth win in 11 meetings with the foundering Lakers.
“We’re starting to play a little better,” Duncan said. “Hopefully we can hit a stride and see how we go from there.”
Bryant scored nine points for the Lakers, going 1 for 14 in one of the worst shooting games of his 19-year NBA career. Coach Byron Scott said the NBA’s leading scorer was sore and aching throughout the day before he missed his first 10 shots and all five of his 3-point attempts.
“I don’t feel too good, but I’m used to playing through that,” Bryant said. “It’s just tough, man. Tonight was one of those nights that make me really remember the challenge of being 36 (years old) and being 19 years in, and the body just won’t respond. You’re sick, and you used to be able to fight through those things. It just helps me remember exactly what I’m facing.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 12 points for the defending NBA champions, who added a comfortable win over the 1-8 Lakers to their impressive victories over the Clippers and Warriors earlier in the week.
San Antonio hit 10 3-pointers, pulling away in the fourth quarter for its eighth win in 11 meetings with the Lakers.
“We defended well, and we made shots from the 3-point line,” Leonard said. “We were struggling, but we still blew it up to a 20-point lead.”
Bryant struggled all over the court, missing fallaway jumpers and drives during the first three quarters. Although he distributed the ball well with six assists, Bryant clearly wasn’t trying not to score, a strategy he has occasionally seemed to employ over the years to make a point to his teammates or coaches.
“I feel great, but tonight was one of those nights where it just caught up (with me),” Bryant said. “I’ve got to try now and look at how to adjust to a recovery program and try to answer the challenge when I face a night like this in the future.”
Bryant finally hit an 18-foot jumper with 10:59 to play, but San Antonio responded with a 19-3 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers from Matt Bonner and Danny Green, taking a 26-point lead. Bryant missed three more shots before sitting down for good midway through the fourth.
Carlos Boozer scored 19 points and Jeremy Lin added 15 for the Lakers, who have lost three straight since their only victory over Charlotte. Jordan Hill had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
BIG BREAK: San Antonio’s veteran stars got plenty of rest in the laugher, with nobody playing more than Tony Parker’s 30 minutes. Parker had 11 points and nine assists, while Manu Ginobili added nine points and eight assists.
GETTING WORSE: The Lakers avoided the longest winless start in franchise history, but their 1-8 record is worse than the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers, who finished a club-worst 19-53.
Spurs: Duncan’s teammates weren’t impressed by his latest scoring milestone: “Well, when you play 48 seasons…” Ginobili said with a laugh. … Leonard went to the locker room early in the fourth quarter after Bryant accidentally hit him in the face while getting fouled. He had a bandage on his left eyebrow afterward.
Lakers: Los Angeles had only 10 players in uniform. … Ronnie Price served a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul on New Orleans’ Austin Rivers earlier this week. … Wayne Ellington missed his third straight game following his father’s death.
Spurs: At Sacramento on Saturday.
Lakers: Host Golden State on Sunday.