Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and
Andrew Bynum added 26 on his 22nd birthday as the reigning NBA
champions opened defense of their title Tuesday night with a 99-92
victory over the Clippers, their Staples Center co-tenants who played
without injured No. 1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin.
The Lakers began the evening with a
ceremony unveiling the franchise's 15th gold-and-purple championship
banner, earned four months ago after defeating Orlando in the finals.
Commissioner David Stern handed out diamond-encrusted rings to everyone from this year's team except for Ron Artest, who joined the
Lakers in the offseason from Houston with the sole purpose of winning a
gaudy bauble for himself. He traded places with Trevor Ariza, who
replaced him with the Rockets.
The last time the Lakers opened a title defense was 2002-03, when they lost 87-82 to San Antonio.
Bryant hit 11 of 12 from the line and had eight rebounds, while Bynum hit eight of 10 free throws and had 13 rebounds.
Artest scored 10 points in his debut
in the starting lineup. Pau Gasol sat out with a strained right
hamstring and was replaced by Lamar Odom, who had 16 points and 13
Eric Gordon scored 21 points for the
Clippers, who lost their ninth in a row to the Lakers. Chris Kaman
added 18 points and 16 rebounds, Marcus Camby had 14 points, and
reserve Craig Smith had 12. Baron Davis was held to two points on 1-of-10
Hoping to erase the memories of last
season's 19-63 record, the Clippers got a jolt of bad news a day before
the season began when they learned Griffin will be out for up to six
weeks with a broken left kneecap. Dressed in a suit and tie, he watched
from a seat behind the bench.
Still, the Clippers kept it close at
times, even if their only lead was by one early in the game. They
trailed by 12 early in the third and closed to 76-75 on Camby's
alley-oop dunk at the end of the period.
But the Lakers opened the fourth
with an 10-2 run and soon pushed their lead to 89-79 on Odom's
3-pointer, energizing a mostly blase crowd that included David Beckham,
Jack Nicholson, Charlize Theron and Odom's new wife, reality starlet
The Clippers committed nine
turnovers in the first quarter when they trailed by 10, the same margin
they were behind by at halftime.
Former Lakers GM Jerry West,
along with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper,
Jamaal Wilkes, A.C. Green, Rick Fox and Robert Horry, all of whom
starred on the club's title teams of the 1980s and earlier this decade,
greeted the current team on the court during the pregame ring
presentation. … Phil Jackson said Gasol could return Friday against
Dallas. … The Lakers improved to 13-4 in season openers at home since
moving to Los Angeles. … The Clippers fell to 0-4 opening the season
against the Lakers, with losses last year when they were the home team,
in 1992, and 1979, when they played in San Diego. … Longtime Lakers
consultant Tex Winter returned to visit and appeared in good form after
recovering from a stroke in April.
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