Despite loss, Lakers feel love of Fresno faithful
It was just an exhibition, but don’t tell that to the hundreds of fans who gathered courtside 30 minutes before tipoff Sunday evening holding up cellphone cameras as Steve Nash shot warm-up jumpers.
When the Los Angeles Lakers come to town, the Save Mart Center takes on a purple and gold hue.
“I go watch them every year, but you can’t beat it when they’re this close,” said Lakers fan Diedre Vargas, who drove from Hanford to watch his favorite team lose 110-83 to the Golden State Warriors.
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
David Lee scored a game-high 19 points for the Warriors, 13 in the decisive third quarter when Golden State closed on a 30-2 run.
Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill scored 10 points apiece for the Lakers.
Despite how things turned out, the Lakers had the decisive homecourt edge. Not only did their fans outnumber Warriors’ fans roughly 1,000 to 1, they brought the bikini-clad cheerleaders and dressed in Fresno State’s locker room.
This was the Lakers’ fifth visit to Fresno since 1996. (Last year’s game was canceled due to the lockout.) Steve Pointkowski of Clovis has been to four of those, including Bryant’s debut at Selland Arena in 1998.
By contrast, this was the Warriors’ first appearance since 1991.
“I’ve been a (Lakers) fan ever since Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1979-80,” said Pointkowski, dressed in a gold Bryant No. 24 jersey.
With Bryant and Nash playing together for the first time, the game — in front of a crowd of 12,015 — provided a sneak peak at the Lakers’ new Princeton-style offense based on movement, screens and reads.
Nash and Bryant didn’t take long getting in sync. When Nash drew two defenders in the lane, he flicked a pass to Bryant for an open jumper that put the Lakers ahead 18-7.
It was the first of what the Lakers hope are hundreds of Nash-to-Bryant connections. Neither played in the second half as the Warriors turned a seven-point halftime deficit into an 86-66 blowout entering the fourth quarter.
“Hopefully by December or January we’ll look very pretty,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Both teams begin the season with heightened expectations, though the Lakers’ are more championship-sized.
The additions of Dwight Howard and Nash to a core of Bryant, Pau Gasol and World Peace have many Lakers fans anticipating a 17th NBA title.
Nash cautioned that it won’t be that simple.
“I think probably from the outside, it appears this is going to be a cinch,” the two-time MVP said. “We’ve got a bunch of great players. We’ll come together and win 60-something games and go (into the playoffs) as a contender. But with so many personalities and dominant players, to try to find a cohesion and understanding is going to be a big challenge.”
Howard has been practicing with his new team but did not suit up as he rehabs from back surgery. The slender 7-footer cut a dashing figure in dark blue jeans, checkered gray shirt, gray vest, black bow tie and horned rim glasses.
The Warriors were without center Andrew Bogut and point guard Stephen Curry.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers trailing by 24 points, fans started chanting, “Kobe! Kobe!” perhaps unaware their hero had not left the locker room after halftime.
Hearing the crowd, Howard leaned over in his chair and mouthed these words to a teammate: “He’s not coming out.”
When Bryant finally walked onto the court with 5 minutes left, the Lakers trailed by 28. The “We want Kobe!” chants started anew, and Bryant responded with a subtle wave.
Amid a sea of Lakers colors, Warriors fan Chris Boldt of Clovis was feeling pretty lonely in his royal blue Curry T-shirt.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this bad,” Boldt said. “But I’m a Warriors fan for life.”
By Marek Warszawski