Alone on his team's half of the basketball court, Kobe Bryant calmly executed his pre-game warm-up on Sunday. He launched the basketball skyward, oblivious of the security guard watching his back. Or the five giddy fans aiming cell phone cameras at him. Or the 17-year-old ball boy who diligently passed him the ball, eyes lowered so as not to weird out the one-time NBA most valuable player. "They don't like it when you look at them," Michael Sawka said.
Other distractions could have penetrated Bryant's orbit at the Air Canada Centre. For example, the sprained pinky finger that had hampered him during his last game, or the angry Armenians who threatened to protest his Toronto appearance because of his affiliation with a Turkish Airline, or the guy in the sold-out crowd who screamed: "M-V-P!" as he sank his free throws, or the woman who shouted after a ball bobble: "It's okay, Kobe, you're hot!"
Instead, he helped lead the Los Angeles to a 120-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers' fifth in a row. Bryant was dominant but not outstanding - contributing a team-high 20 points, three rebounds and four assists. That didn't alter his focused but neutral expression, either.
For Bryant, adoration and extra attention is business as usual, even in another team's house.
Toronto (10-18) entered Sunday's matchup looking to build on Friday's 98-92 win over New Jersey - but its growing list of aches and pains didn't help matters. The team's best player, Andrea Bargnani, missed the game because of a sore right ankle, and another starter, Sonny Weems, missed his second straight because of back spasms.
The Raptors led 34-28 after the first quarter, but lost their advantage in a poorly executed second quarter, from which they never truly recovered.
Their biggest problem came on the boards: the bigger, stronger Laker bigs out-rebounded the Raptors 46-35, with Amir Johnson, rookie Ed Davis, and Joey Dorsey contributing just 13 rebounds between them. Linas Kleiza added 10 of his own, along with 26 points, building on his previous strong performance on Wednesday.
Johnson led the Raptors' in the first quarter with 12 points on six for six shooting, but petered out later on, perhaps because his lower back was bothering him. Jose Calderon, whose foot continues to bother him, contributed 20 points and 12 assists.
Raptors coach Jay Triano commended both for soldiering through their own aches and pains. "It's questionable whether they should have played," he said.
DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, including a 19-point third-quarter.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he was impressed with the Raptors' performance. "Jay did a lot of things, trying to cook up a zone, trying to keep us at bay," he said. "They did some things that created conflict for us."
Christmas, what Christmas?
Sunday's game wrapped up a seven-game road trip for the Lakers. "We're delirious," said Rudy Garciduenas, the Lakers' veteran equipment manager. Sitting in the Lakers locker room before the game, he and the team's video technician plotted to peg off one of the security guards with a scrunched up piece of paper. Seven games in 10 days, he said, shaking his head with a wry smile.
Truth be told, Garciduenas said, he couldn't remember the last time he wasn't working on Christmas Day - and he's been with the team for 28 years. (Call it the price of being amazing).
This year, the Lakers face the Miami Heat at the Staples Center on Dec. 25.
Jackson said he still had presents to buy, but he wasn't too worried about it. "I have to get an assistant to do those things," he said.
At least one player had his list down pat. Bryant told reporters on Saturday that his two daughters had requested Transformers.
The Detroit Pistons are in Toronto on Wednesday as the Raptors wrap up a four-game stretch at home.
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