SEATTLE -- It only made sense that the Lakers chose the crisp, clean atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest to put themselves in the lofty air atop the Western Conference.
They beat the Seattle SuperSonics, 111-91, and then looked down at the rest of the West, with Phoenix, San Antonio and New Orleans a game behind them despite Kobe Bryant's ejection Sunday night for arguing a non-call in the third quarter at KeyArena.
Being at the top wasn't unfamiliar territory for the Lakers (39-17), although they hoped to stay a little longer than their last visit there.
They woke up on Jan. 16 to find themselves owning the best record in the West. It lasted two days.
"It's never enough," said forward Lamar Odom. "We've just got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing . . ."
Odom did his part by continuing his string of solid games -- 19 points and 11 rebounds -- and Bryant had 21 points and 10 assists in 26 minutes before running afoul of referee Brian Forte with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Bryant complained after thinking he was fouled while going for a rebound. He was whistled by Forte for a technical foul and had to be pulled back by Derek Fisher after continuing to voice his opinion. A few seconds later, a second technical was called after Bryant circled back toward Forte and made an unspecified comment.
His night ended with the Lakers ahead, 88-57.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to comment on the official," Bryant said sharply. "I don't want to get fined any more."
When asked if the whistles came a little quick, Bryant answered, "Watch the replay." He provided more details a minute later.
"The first tech I got, I didn't say anything," he said. "On the second tech, that's a little different. Somebody just grabbed me on the arm [after a missed Seattle shot], smacked my arm, [they] missed the call. I go down to the other end of the floor, next thing I know, he gives me a tech."
Coach Phil Jackson was more critical than analytical. He said the Lakers were already irritated during the first half, when they felt Seattle players were going over their backs for rebounds without being called for fouls. Then he made the observation that Forte was the son of longtime NBA referee Joe Forte.
"I told [Bryant] you shouldn't jump on junior, his dad might carry a grudge against you," Jackson said, smiling. "But that's nepotism in our league. That's Forte's son."
When Bryant was on the court, he and Pau Gasol were connecting in much the same way Bryant and Andrew Bynum did the first two months of the season. Bryant found Gasol for three dunks in the third quarter. Gasol finished with 22 points and seven rebounds.
The Lakers have won eight consecutive games, their longest winning streak since winning 11 in a row toward the end of the 2003-04 season. They also improved to 9-4 in the second games of back-to-back situations, a significant improvement on their 8-9 record last season and 8-11 mark in 2005-06.
The Lakers led by 23 in the second quarter and 31 in the third, but the Sonics closed to within 19 early in the fourth quarter. There was a brief flicker of worry in the Lakers, who were without their leading scorer. Then it disappeared.
"Don't even think about it," Odom yelled playfully to reporters sitting courtside. "You're not even going to be writing a [losing] story tonight."
He was right. The Lakers reestablished a 24-point lead and cruised to victory.
Two rookies started for them Sunday, along with a center who was averaging 4.7 points and four rebounds a game. It wasn't overly surprising that they never led.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have 26 games left, 16 at home.
Atop the West, with an agreeable schedule on the horizon.
"Now we're in a situation where we can control our destiny," Jackson said. "And that's important."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun