Lakers rally past Knicks

Lakers 120, Knicks 109
January 30, 2008 7:16:23 AM PST
Injuries keep cropping up for the Los Angeles Lakers. If there's a positive aspect, it might be the opportunity presented to Sasha Vujacic.Vujacic, a 23-year-old guard from Slovenia, scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, and the Lakers rallied for a 120-109 victory over the New York Knicks to snap a season-high three-game losing streak.

Kobe Bryant had 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Lamar Odom added 22 points and 12 rebounds, but it was Vujacic who provided the Lakers what they needed down the stretch.

"He's continued to work hard. He's been diligent at it," Bryant said. "It seems his time has come."

Then, Bryant added with a smile: "He was a 12:30 guy for a while."

Bryant referred to Vujacic's difficulty carrying over his accurate shooting in practice to when it counted at night in the games.

"He can make shots," said Derek Fisher, who scored 17 points. "Even when he's struggled making shots, everybody knows that's his strength. It was great seeing him make shots. He had an impact at the defensive end as well."

The Lakers trailed 100-91 when Vujacic made a pair of 3-pointers to get them going. A jumper by Bryant with 5:07 left snapped a 104-all tie and put Los Angeles (28-15) ahead for good.

Zach Randolph's basket with 3:10 left drew the Knicks within two points before the Lakers scored the next 10 points to clinch the victory.

"Our lack of execution down the stretch, particularly the last five, six minutes of the game, we just totally lost all composure," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said.

Lakers forward Luke Walton came out of the game for good late in the first quarter with a right hip pointer and is day-to-day. He joined centers Andrew Bynum (left knee) and Chris Mihm (right ankle bursitis) and forward Trevor Ariza (broken right foot) on the sidelines.

"(Vujacic) has a big opportunity now with Kobe moving to the small forward a lot of the time because we're undermanned," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He was effective out there all the way through both offensively and defensively."

Vujacic, a first-round draft pick of the Lakers in 2004, entered with a 6.5-point average in 32 games.

"Everybody loves to play," Vujacic said. "My moment has arrived here with the Lakers. Unfortunately, it's because of injuries.

Ronny Turiaf added 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots, and Kwame Brown had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who are 13-0 when at least six players score in double figures.

"Defense was a hope and a prayer for the first three quarters for us tonight, but we found a way to defend a little bit at the end of the game," Jackson said.

Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson led New York (14-30) with 22 points each. David Lee had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Randolph added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Knicks, who had won five of their previous eight games.

"We just made a couple of bad defensive plays toward the end," Randolph said. "Kobe stepped up, hit big shots found open guys and played big. We couldn't stop them at the end. They've got great options and great shooters from the outside. They've put great players around him."

The game was the final one for the Lakers before they begin a nine-game road trip Thursday night in Detroit - their longest trip in the NBA's modern era.

Eddy Curry was limited to 10½ first-half minutes because of foul trouble, and picked up his fifth just 71 seconds into the third quarter. A frustrated Bryant picked up a technical foul shortly thereafter, and Crawford's foul shot gave the Knicks a 66-60 lead.

That seemed to get Bryant going. He had only four points at that stage, but scored 11 during the remainder of the third quarter, which ended with the Knicks on top 87-85.

Curry finished with 10 points while playing a little over 16 minutes.

"It's always tough to lose a player of Eddy's caliber because he changed so much for us," Crawford said. "We lost control of the game. Kobe took it up another notch, got his teammates involved, and those guys did a good job of making shots."