Kobe Bryant struggled through his fourth consecutive sub-par shooting game because of his broken right index finger. The Lakers still led all the way and avoided their first three-game losing streak in nearly two years.
Bryant’s supporting cast came through in a 95-77 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night.
“We’re not playing our best basketball and managed to win some games,” he said. “We know how we need to get better, and tonight we got better. We played extremely well defensively.”
Milwaukee’s 77 points were the fewest the team has ever scored against the Lakers, breaking the old mark of 82 on Feb. 25, 1973.
Andrew Bynum had 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, Shannon Brown added 19 points, Jordan Farmar scored 15 of his 17 in the second half, and Derek Fisher had 11 for the defending NBA champions.
Bryant had 12 points on 4 of 21 shooting. He was 14 of 37 in a loss at Portland on Friday, and 10 of 30 in a loss against the Clippers last Wednesday. Before that, he shot 9 of 23 against Houston.
“I played with the splint off. We put it back on in the second half,” he said. “Just trying to get a little bit more flexibility back. The finger felt pretty good, so we tried to go without the splint. It’s just not strong enough.”
Bryant was 1 of 14 with four points in the first half. He’s resorted to launching some shots left-handed in recent games. But Bryant is insistent he won’t take any time off despite swelling that comes and goes in his shooting hand.
“I made it worse up in Sacramento. I got hit pretty good and it swelled up,” he said. “Then it got better and felt pretty good, took the splint off, didn’t work too well. Now the splint is back on.”
Playing without the splint, Bryant said, gives him more range and movement in his index finger but he lacks strength to shoot the ball, resulting in balls coming up short. Wearing the splint gives his finger more strength and protection, but Bryant admits it affects his touch.
“It is noticeable in his shooting and he knows it,” coach Phil Jackson said. “He is still tender. The second knuckle is probably even more painful than the broken tip so there is a whole thing going on with that index finger.”
After losing to the Clippers and Portland, the Lakers were facing the prospect of their first three-game skid since acquiring Pau Gasol on Feb. 1, 2008. Of course, he didn’t play Sunday, sitting out his fourth straight game with a strained left hamstring.
But they didn’t need him.
Milwaukee’s reserves did the bulk of its scoring. Hakim Warrick had 14 points, Jodie Meeks 12, and Brandon Jennings, Luke Ridnour and Charlie Bell 10 each for the Bucks, who had won three straight but dropped to 5-11 on the road.
Milwaukee starting guard Michael Redd left the game because of a sore left knee and didn’t return. He was scoreless in nearly 12 minutes. He is scheduled for a MRI on Monday in Phoenix.
“I felt a pop making a turn. It’s not as swollen as it was when I tore my ACL, which is good. But at the same time, it still hurts,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”
The Lakers, an NBA-best 29-8, jumped out to a 24-8 lead in the opening quarter, when the Bucks were 4 of 21 from the field. They outscored Los Angeles 20-15 in the second, but the Lakers maintained a 39-28 halftime lead.
“We just missed a lot of shots. We got some good looks, but nothing was falling for us all night,” Jennings said. “Everything was going in and out. Then Mike Redd went down. It was a little hard for me to adjust, because I was so used to passing to him to get him going. So it was just a bad game.”