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Kobe Bryant triple-doubles down on new Lakers era

This is Mike D'Antoni's team now, despite his surprise absence from the bench as the Lakers beat Houston. Mike Brown's stalled offense has given way to a free-flowing style.

Helene Elliott

2:57 AM EST, November 19, 2012

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Kobe Bryant considered it no big deal Sunday that his 22-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance against the Houston Rockets was his 18th triple-double, a feat that didn't inspire much more from him than a small smile. And maybe in one sense he was right.

The way the Lakers' offense has been gushing since Mike Brown and his stale offense were sent packing, triple-doubles could become the norm for Bryant and triple-digit outputs are likely to become the norm for the Lakers.

Their 119-108 rout of the Rockets was their fourth 100-point production in the five games since Bernie Bickerstaff stepped in for Brown, after reaching that level only twice in their first five games. Although Bickerstaff surprisingly returned to the bench Sunday because Mike D'Antoni decided he needed more time to regain his energy following knee-replacement surgery, the Lakers were still playing D'Antoni's style on Sunday and hearing his words and carrying out his orders.

This is D'Antoni's team now, beyond question. Brown is fast becoming a faded memory and even the Phil Jackson now-he's-hired-oops-he's-not fiasco carried out by management is shrinking in importance for now.

Bryant wasn't the Lakers' high scorer Sunday, an honor that went to Dwight Howard, with 28 points. But Bryant's triple-double became a line of demarcation between what the Lakers were and what they might become when Howard regains his full conditioning and Steve Nash's fractured leg heals.

It was Bryant's first triple-double since Nov. 3, 2010, or the pre-Mike Brown, pre-forced Princeton offense era. That's over now. Gone, and soon to be forgotten in the wake of Bryant's triple-double and his teammates' offensive flow.

"It's cool," said Bryant, who was more exultant at hearing the Galaxy had made the MLS championship game than he was over his own excellence.

"It's not something I've ever tried to go after, but it's always cool when it happens."

The key, Bryant said, is the simplicity of the message being sent by D'Antoni and Bickerstaff.

"They're kind of one and the same, in terms of they both want us to read each other and react to the defense and play freely," Bryant said. "He just lets us go out there and play. It's not like he has to be on top of us and stuff. He comes in before the game and tells us what we need to do, at halftime he comes in and tells us everything we need to adjust and we just go from there….

"We're just picking apart the defense. We're putting the defense in predicaments where they have to choose and we're making them pay."

The Lakers' own defensive efforts, at least in the last two games, leave a lot to be desired. Phoenix scored 64 points in the paint on Friday and 102 overall; the Rockets scored 56 points in the paint and shot 48.9% from the floor.

Can that be fixed? It will have to be amended, at least, but Bryant didn't seem worried.

"We just need to get a little sharper, a little crisper," he said. "Defensively we're doing OK. These last two teams that we played did a good job getting up and down and spacing the floor and making shots."

The Lakers did a better job in both cases. And Bryant said it's almost as fun to play it as it was for Staples Center fans to watch it.

"It's getting there. It's getting there," he said. "We still kind of got our heads down and kind of motoring along. The fun will come a little later, hopefully."

Soon, perhaps on Tuesday, perhaps on Wednesday, D'Antoni finally will take his spot on the bench and be there not only in spirit and strategy but in body too. No other team could operate this way, but for the Lakers, it's a circus every day. A more exciting one now, at that.

helene.elliott@latimes.com