- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

The 20,173 fans who crowded into an electric Verizon Center last night expecting to see both a great battle between Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas and a victory for the hometown team must have walked away feeling like a Los Angeles divorcee.

They got half.

Kobe Bryant — making his lone appearance in the District this season — was magnificent, scoring a game-high 39 points as the Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a 118-102 victory over the Washington Wizards. Bryant’s assist on a bucket by Smush Parker with 2:26 left in the game gave the Lakers a 112-97 lead and provoked the mass exodus of the 12th sellout crowd of the season.

About the only thing they missed were the chants of MVP! However, this time they were not for Arenas, but for Bryant, as a large swath of Lakers fans attended the game.

Arenas, who tortured the Lakers for a franchise record 60 points when the teams met in December, finished with 37 points on 9-for-29 shooting.

The game had been pointed to by local fans for weeks, mostly because of some comments that Bryant made about Arenas in the aftermath of that December game. Bryant was quoted as saying that Arenas had “no conscience,” a comment Bryant later said was a compliment.

Compliment or criticism, what was evident moments after the game was that the Wizards (27-19), playing their second game without leader Antawn Jamison, allowed themselves to be sucked into the hype.

“I think we got caught up in the rematch, so to say,” said Jarvis Hayes, who filled in for Jamison and finished with five points. “We have been feeling this game since last week and emotions were real, real, real, real high. I think we’ve got it out of our system. But it was just everything, from us beating them at home to Gil going for 60. It was just an emotional night.”

Washington made just 36.3 percent of its shots, resulting in a 25-point swing that took the Lakers (28-19) from an 18-10 deficit in the first quarter to an eventual 114-97 lead and a fourth quarter that mostly featured double-digit Laker leads.

Arenas — who insisted there was no bad blood between himself and Bryant — said that he too took the second meeting between the teams too seriously.

“Yeah,” Arenas said,”I was here all last night shooting and getting ready for the game. I have to stop doing that serious thing before the game. That’s the second time I’ve tried that and that’s not working for me.”

Arenas and Bryant rarely were matched up against each other last night. Bryant, who won three championships with the Lakers, said he didn’t notice any irritation in Arenas, who like him will start in the NBA All-Star Game later this month.

“He seemed like he was just out there playing his game,” Bryant said. “He had some good looks at the basket and he had some tough looks at the basket. We just tried to get a hand up and contest it. Some nights those go down, some nights they don’t.”

One of the only bright spots for the Wizards was forward Darius Songaila’s debut in a Washington uniform. Out all season following back surgery, Songaila played 11 minutes and scored two points last night.

But Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has more pressing concerns. He currently is trying to keep the team performing at a high level considering that it will be without Jamison (sprained knee) for the next three to six weeks.

“There is less of a comfort level,” Jordan said. “We have to trust and give people chances that are stepping in to do well in the system. We haven’t shown that yet. We are going to get back to practice tomorrow and get better at that. We have to reinforce that tomorrow.”

The Wizards also have to reinforce a desire to play some defense, at least until Jamison returns. In its last two games, Washington has given up 119 and 118 points. The Wizards also have lost two of three at home after putting together a Verizon Center-record 10 consecutive wins.

Still, there is no panic, not yet.

“We’re not worried right now,” Hayes said. “We know what we have to do to get better. We’ll figure it out.”

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