Refreshed and back in synch after the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers flexed their muscles with a 104-80 thrashing of the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
Kobe Bryant followed up an MVP performance in Sunday’s All-Star game with 20 points, while Pau Gasol added 14 points and 10 rebounds as the defending NBA champions ended a three-game losing skid in style.
Much having been made of their recent slump, the Lakers (39-19) quickly jumped on Atlanta and took a 21-point halftime lead before cruising to the finish.
“We have 24 games left in the regular season, so the sense of urgency,” Bryant told reporters. “This is not about statements, it’s about us playing the right way and tonight we did a great job and came out with the win.”
Currently third in the Western Conference, Los Angeles have battled inconsistency all season.
The Lakers were coming off an embarrassing loss to the NBA-worst Cleveland Cavaliers in their last outing, but against Atlanta they turned up their intensity.
The Hawks (34-22) were held to just 36 percent shooting and lost for the fourth time in five games.
Joe Johnson was Atlanta’s leading scorer with 14 points as the Hawks fell a game and a half behind the Orlando Magic for fourth-place in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta was playing the first contest of a five-game road trip against Western Conference teams and the Lakers made it a rude opening for the visitors.
Shannon Brown scored 15 points off the bench and Andrew Bynum made some critical defensive plays, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking three shots.
“We were out there playing more aggressive defensively and it paid off,” Bynum said. “We have a goal to beat last year’s record (of 57-25). Setting short-term goals and trying to meet them can change the way we play.”
NUGGETS 120, GRIZZLIES 107
In Denver, Colorado, J.R. Smith’s 26 points helped Denver beat the Memphis Grizzlies only hours after the Nuggets finalized a blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.
Tony Allen had 26 points and O.J. Mayo added 21 for the Grizzlies, who had their four-game winning streak halted.
The Nuggets had only nine players on the bench following a three-team trade that also involved Minnesota.
In the 13-player swap, the Knicks picked up Anthony, Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman from Denver.
New York had to pay a steep price, sending Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round draft pick to the Nuggets, who get additional picks and cash. Denver also acquired center Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves.
HEAT 117, KINGS 97
At Miami, LeBron James scored 31 points and Dwyane Wade added 23 as Miami opened their post-All-Star schedule with an easy win over Sacramento.
Chris Bosh had a 22-point, nine-rebound night and Mario Chalmers added 14 points for Miami, which won for the 11th time in their last 12 games. The Heat made seven straight shots on the way to shooting 64 percent in the opening quarter, setting the stage for a rout.
Samuel Dalembert had 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for the Kings, who are 1-8 this month.
CELTICS 115, WARRIORS 93
At Oakland, California, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo each came close to a triple-double as Boston picked up right where it left off before the All-Star break with a victory over Golden State.
Garnett had 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Rondo had 19 points, 15 assists and six rebounds to help the Celtics stay atop the Eastern Conference standings and break a six-game losing streak at Golden State.
THUNDER 111, CLIPPERS 88
At Oklahoma City, Jeff Green scored 22 points and Kevin Durant added 21 as Oklahoma spoiled Blake Griffin’s return to his hometown by beating Los Angeles.
Griffin made a run at his first career triple-double but came up two assists shy. He followed his slam dunk title and rare All-Star appearance by a rookie by amassing 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but the Clippers sorely missed him when he was out of the game.
PACERS 113, WIZARDS 96
At Washington, Danny Granger had 21 points and 10 rebounds as Indiana piled on the fast-break points to open the season’s homestretch with a rout of Washington.
Tyler Hansbrough added 17 points in 21 minutes as the Pacers broke a two-game losing streak and improved to 8-3 under interim coach Frank Vogel.
The Pacers scored all 26 of their fast-break points by the third quarter and would have broken their season-high of 28 if they hadn’t started taking their time because they were so far ahead.
ROCKETS 108, PISTONS 100
At Auburn Hills, Michigan, rookie forward Patrick Patterson scored a career-high 20 points, including seven in a row late in the fourth quarter as Houston pulled away from Detroit.
After both teams had blown double-digit leads, Patterson’s tip-in gave the Rockets a 95-94 advantage. He added a three-point play and a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game with 2:35 to play.
Aaron Brooks finished the run with two free throws. Kevin Martin scored 16 points for Houston.
Will Bynum led Detroit with 21 points and Rodney Stuckey added 19, but Tayshaun Prince missed all nine of his field goal attempts and scored only one point.
In Tuesday’s other games, it was:
‧ Bucks 94, Timberwolves 88
‧ Bobcats 114, Raptors 101
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