Bryant scored 24 points, but remained on the bench during the final 12 minutes while Vujacic scored 19 of his career-high 22 points to power the Los Angeles Lakers to a 127-99 rout of the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night. The victory was completed only hours after coach Phil Jackson received a two-year contract extension.
"I was having fun, but it's not just because of the 22 points I scored. It's my teammates. They gave me open looks and believed in me," said Vujacic, who shot 6-for-14 in 21 minutes of action. "Denver played a lot of zone, so Coach asked me to move from corner to corner to overload the side, and we did a great job sharing the basketball. The way we swing the ball around, it was just unbelievable."
Los Angeles' much-improved second unit played so spectacularly and efficiently down the stretch that Bryant was reduced to spectator status -- despite the fact that Los Angeles led by only six points after three. The Lakers' reserves outscored their Denver counterparts 63-29.
"The young fellas came in and took care of business," Bryant said. "We have young players who have a lot of heart and who care. And when you have that combination, you have a lot of potential. In the past, I've always been the only guy in the gym really working hard. But now I've got guys in there with me pushing themselves every single day, and that makes a big difference."
J.R. Smith opened the fourth with a layup that cut Los Angeles' lead to 81-77. The Lakers then went on a 24-8 run that extended the margin to 105-85. Vujacic scored the Lakers' last seven points of the rally -- two free throws, followed by a 3-pointer and then a 20-footer with 6:41 to play.
"It just happened to be his night tonight," Bryant said. "He had a hot hand. The ball started flowing to him, he had some open looks and he was able to knock them down. We really need him out there for defense, more than anything. But when there are shots available to him, it's important that he knocks them down."
Earlier in the run, Vujacic was fouled by Eduardo Najera behind the 3-point line and sank all three free throws. Anthony was ejected with 6:18 remaining after committing a flagrant foul against Vujacic, hitting him in the throat away from the ball.
"It wasn't intentionally done," Anthony said. "I hope people don't overreact."
When Vujacic was told that Anthony accused him of embellishing the foul by flopping, the Lakers' reserve guard responded with a bemused grin.
"I think I've got to give him a DVD of European soccer. Then he can really see flops," Vujacic said. "I think it was frustration on his part. He's one of the best players in the league. But we did an amazing job on defense against him by double-teaming him -- and that's why he tried to choke me. I was surprised that he grabbed me with his hand."
Trailing by two at halftime, the Lakers opened the third quarter with a 19-3 run capped by Walton's short jumper with 6½ minutes left in the quarter.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom missed nine of his first 11 shots, then converted a no-look, one-bounce pass from Bryant into a layup that rimmed the basket before falling through. It capped a 30-14 run that sliced Denver's lead to 52-51 with 54.6 seconds left in the half.
Nuggets coach George Karl brought his team into Staples Center one day after the Lakers assigned his son, Coby, to their D-League team. But at least Karl got to see him play in the game preceding the main event -- instead of watching him languishing at the end of the Lakers' bench.
With his dad watching from a seat in the auxiliary press section next to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, Coby started and played 39 minutes during the D-Fenders' 123-111 victory against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, scoring 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting with four assists and five rebounds.
"We talked about the fact that he'd probably have to do this -- and doing it under an NBA contract is the best scenario we thought would happen this summer," said Karl, who got to the arena two minutes into his son's game. "I mean, you can say you want to play NBA minutes, but when you're not a drafted player, that's a process that takes months, sometimes years."
- Jelani McCoy, who began the day with the Lakers' D-League club before signing with Denver as a free agent, did not see action. McCoy has played for five teams in seven NBA seasons. The former UCLA center appeared in four preseason games with the Nuggets before being waived on Oct. 23.