LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwight Howard had 23 points and 18 rebounds, Kobe Bryant scored 20 and the in-transition Los Angeles Lakers continued warming up for a possible return by Phil Jackson with a 103-89 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
Lame-duck interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff called the shots for the second straight game following the firing of Mike Brown on Friday with the team off to a 1-4 start — their worst in 19 years. They throttled Golden State 101-77 at Staples Center several hours after the change.
Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak remain in negotiations with Jackson, whom they are trying to coax out of retirement for what would be his third coaching stint with the organization.
The 67-year-old Hall of Famer guided the club to five NBA titles and won six others with the Chicago Bulls. He walked away after the Lakers were swept by Dallas in the second round of the 2011 playoffs — denying the Zen Master his fourth three-peat.
The Kings were forced to play short-handed with center DeMarcus Cousins and backup forward Thomas Robinson serving suspensions without pay. Forward Jason Thompson, shifting to center in place of Cousins, had 15 points and 10 assists for Sacramento before fouling out with 9:46 left. Jimmer Fredette scored a team-high 18, most coming after the outcome was long decided.
Cousins began his two-game ban for confronting a Spurs TV analyst in a hostile manner following a 97-86 home loss to San Antonio on Friday night. Robinson completed his two-game absence, following his vicious elbow to the throat of Detroit’s Jonas Jerebko during Sacramento’s 105-103 home win last Wednesday. Cousins loses about $70,500 in salary and Robinson more than $82,000.
The Lakers built a 72-57 lead with an 11-0 run, capped by Bryant’s two free throws with 4:26 left in the third quarter. They extended the margin to as many as 22 with 4:23 remaining on a pair of 3-pointers 40 seconds apart by Metta World Peace. He and Paul Gasol each finished with 18 points.
Howard had 14 points and 10 boards in the first half, including a short hook shot off an offensive rebound in the final seconds of the second quarter to give the Lakers a 57-48 lead at intermission. Steve Blake, starting at point guard for the fifth straight game because of Steve Nash’s knee injury, was limited to 12 minutes in the half because of an abdominal strain that kept him off the court for almost 10½ minutes.
This is the first time the Lakers changed head coaches during a season since 2004-05, when Rudy Tomjanovich left midway through the first year of a five-year contract due to health issues and was replaced by Frank Hamblen. It’s the third time Bickerstaff has taken over the reins of an NBA team after a season was underway, including 1994-95 with Denver (20-12) and 1996-97 with Washington (22-13).
The Lakers have now changed head coaches on the fly in six of their 53 years in Los Angeles. On two of those occasions, they went on to win an NBA title. In 1979-80, Paul Westhead relieved Jack McKinney with the team off to a 10-4 start after McKinney was hospitalized due to a serious bicycle accident. Westhead was fired in 1981-82 with a 7-4 record, shortly after Magic Johnson publicly criticized him, and Pat Riley guided the team to the first of four championships under his watch.
NOTES: Bryant was at the free throw line at the midway mark of the second quarter when the sellout crowd began chanting “We Want Phil!” They must have been misguided. Jackson was a 73.6-percent free throw shooter during his 12 seasons as an NBA player, and Bryant was 83.8 percent lifetime coming in ... Sacramento coach Keith Smart got a technical foul early in the second quarter for complaining about a non-call against Antawn Jamison, who made a clean block on a layup by Marcus Thornton and sent him crashing to the floor ... Lakers F Devin Ebanks, who posted $5,000 bail following his arrest early Friday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was scratched for the second straight game. He is due back in court on Dec. 7 ... The Kings are 0-4 on the road, matching their worst start away from Arco Arena since 2007-08, when they dropped their first nine to tie a franchise record.