LOS ANGELES ---No Kobe Bryant. No Mike Brown. And the Lakers had little trouble with the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Friday night.
Brown left Staples Center just before tip-off to handle a personal matter according to Lakers team officials. John Kuester, who was the head coach of the Detroit Pistons last season, stepped in to fill Brown's spot, while Kobe Bryant took the Phil Jackson chair.
Bryant, who was missing his fourth straight game with a shin injury, sat high above the Lakers bench, very Zen-like, as he watched his teammates withstand a late Denver rally to hold on for a 103-97 win in the absence of Brown.
"We just wanted to go hard. We wanted to get a win," said Lakers center Andrew Bynum. "It really stinks when you're not able to be a part of the game and the team loses. Hopefully he's happy with that and we wish him the best with whatever's going on because we don't know."
Matt Barnes stepped up late for the Lakers (38-22). The Nuggets (32-27), who trailed by as much as 15 points, got within one in the fourth quarter when Barnes knocked down a three pointer from the right wing to put the Lakers up 94-90. He later hit a free throw and a runner in the lane, scoring six straight points as part of a Lakers 8-0 run.
"We got a good team here. There's been talk all year that the bench can't do this or other guys can't do that," said Barnes who finished with a season high 24 points and added 10 rebounds off of the bench. "We know our roles and that's the key. My job is not going to be to score like this every night. My job is to bring energy and play hard, but on nights with Kobe out, other guys have to step up."
Metta World Peace says Barnes' play of late is an example of how the team should be playing as they finish out the season. It's been Barnes and World Peace who have had to step up their leadership roles since the trade of Derek Fisher. It was even more glaring on Friday night when the team was once again without their leading scorer and also their head coach.
"(World Peace) and I have tried to hold everybody accountable. With Fish out, we've kind of been leadership by committee," Barnes said. "We miss Fish. He's done so much for the team and for the organization but with the business being the way it is, other people have to step up."
Bynum stepped up with his 30 rebounds at San Antonio. He was unable to duplicate that performance on Friday night. Whereas Wednesday night he didn't shoot the ball well --and used an expletive during the Lakers television broadcast to tell the world about it --he found his touch in the third quarter on Friday night.
Bynum had 13 points, four rebounds, one block, and one tackle in the third quarter. He was so frustrated from the double and triple teams he was receiving all night from the Nuggets, after the ball was poked away from him, he literally jumped on the back of Nuggets guard Corey Brewer going for a loose ball.
By time the quarter was over, the Lakers center was five of six shooting in the third as the Lakers held a 79-71 lead at the end of three quarters.
"I just started to post deeper in the second half and it helped out because, even if they come (with the double team), I'm still close enough to the basket where I can do something," said Bynum who finished with a game high 30 points.
In all, four Lakers reached double figures. Pau Gasol and World Peace chipped in 14 points each. Gasol also added 10 rebounds.
Over the last four games, the Lakers have picked up the highest paid assistant coach in the league in Bryant, who Kuester says has provided a "calming influence" on the bench. Although he sat in Jackson's old chair on Friday night, his teammates don't think it's a chair he could get comfortable in.
When asked if Bryant could be a coach in the future, Gasol responded, simply "No. I really don't."
This season, at least, the Lakers are 3-1 with Bryant playing the role of assistant.
Sunday, the Lakers, who now hold a game and a half lead over the Clippers for the third spot in the Western Conference, will host the Dallas Mavericks at 12:30pm. Bryant's status is uncertain.