A little rest goes a long way for veteran Lakers

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Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni both made references to the Lakers looking old and slow in their loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.

Well they found their legs on Friday, though, running around, over and through the Portland Trail Blazers on the way to a 104-87 victory. The win moved the Lakers, who have won six of their last seven games, back to .500 at 15-15.

The Lakers didn’t shoot particularly well from the free throw line (61 percent) or from 3-point range (29 percent), but they destroyed Portland on the boards, shot 12 more free throws and seemingly got to every loose ball. Who says the Lakers are old?

Granted, the Blazers are not very good despite their 14-14 record. They have had the fourth-easiest schedule in the league so far (the Lakers have the 14th toughest), have the worst scoring bench in the NBA and have allowed their opponents to make nearly 47 percent of their shots, the third-worst number in the league. But there were some good signs to be seen in a rare easy victory in which each of the Lakers starters played fewer than 31 minutes.

Bryant scored 27 points, coming up just short of another 30-point game, and Steve Nash ran the offense smoothly with a 10-assist night. But this game was won with energy inside.

What the Nuggets did to the Lakers on Wednesday, the Lakers took out on Portland on Friday, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and out-boarding the Blazers 52-44.

Pau Gasol, who was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis on Thursday, didn’t seem to be slowed at all, compiling 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He also continued his recent 3-point barrage, nailing two of three from beyond the arc.

“Pau was looking like Nowitzki out there,” said Dwight Howard, who dominated inside with 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Howard also altered several other shots, and he made four straight free throws during a stretch when Blazers coach Terry Stotts attempted the hack-a-Dwight strategy in the second quarter.

It was a pleasant change from Wednesday, when Howard looked sluggish and frustrated before being ejected for a flagrant foul in the third quarter. Howard hinted that he still isn’t 100 percent after offseason back surgery, and said the day off on Thursday was much needed.

“The thing for me is to continue to get rest,” Howard said after the game. “Sometimes those back-to-back games are very tough for me.”

Howard also said he needed to work on being more consistent, especially defensively. It was a sentiment echoed by others on the team, as coach Mike D’Antoni called Howard’s presence on defense “invaluable,” and Nash said “I hope he realizes with consistent effort what he can accomplish. He can dominate a game even outside of the stat sheet.”

If Friday was an indication of how the Lakers can play when they are rested, the schedule for the next week bodes well, as the Lakers only have two games in the next seven days – Tuesday at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, and then a “road game” next Friday at Staples against the Clippers, who are in the midst of a 16-game winning streak.

You can follow Bob Harkins on Twitter at @Bharks.

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