Kobe Bryant helps Lakers beat struggling Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- After less than five minutes guarding Kobe Bryant, Rip Hamilton was walking off the court, ejected following a pair of technical fouls.

For the Detroit Pistons, the frustration was only beginning.

Bryant scored 33 points without playing in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers took advantage of Hamilton's absence in a 103-90 win Wednesday night. Bryant scored 24 in the first half, helping the Lakers open a 14-point halftime lead, and the struggling Pistons allowed the first seven points of the third quarter to fall behind 66-45.

"It was very important to get off to a good start," Bryant said. "I think when you play teams like this, and you give them momentum and give them energy, all of a sudden you find yourself in a dogfight."

Playing on the second of back-to-back nights -- and with a rough landing in between at a Michigan airport -- the Lakers showed few signs of rustiness. Bryant's 3-pointer from the left wing gave the Lakers an 11-2 lead, and he had 14 points by the end of the first quarter.

Hamilton didn't make it that far. He was called for his second foul with 7:01 left in the quarter when Bryant tried a turnaround jumper from the baseline after trying to back Hamilton down. Hamilton didn't appear too demonstrative, but he must have said something because official Derrick Stafford gave him two quick technical fouls before Bryant even stepped to the free-throw line.

"I just heard two quick whistles, and that was it," Bryant said. "I really wasn't sure what happened."

Hamilton wasn't in the locker room when reporters were allowed in. After the ejection, Bryant made four straight free throws for a 15-7 lead.

"Before you blink an eye, Rip's gone and we have to make some adjustments," Pistons coach John Kuester said. "He's a great player, and he's a competitor who wants to play his best against the best."

Pau Gasol added 25 points and 12 rebounds for Los Angeles, and he didn't play in the fourth quarter either. Rodney Stuckey scored 18 for the Pistons.

Detroit trailed by only three in the second quarter but couldn't hold off Bryant for long. His hanging bank shot in the lane made it 49-39. Moments later, Bryant appeared frustrated when the offense bogged down, but he was able to take the ball to the baseline himself and sink a fadeaway jumper.

The Lakers shot 57 percent in the first half, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

Los Angeles took a 76-50 lead in the third quarter on Gasol's three-point play when he made a layup while being fouled after a behind-the-back pass by Lamar Odom.

Odom finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

"We told them to get off to an early start, and everything seemed to go right for us," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It looks like some of their guys aren't playing hard right now, too. In that regard, we were able to get after it. Kobe was full of business tonight."

The Pistons lost their first five games, and although they've recovered to win four of seven since then, there have been signs of discontent all season.

Stuckey was temporarily benched earlier this month, and Kuester got into a heated verbal exchange with Tayshaun Prince during Monday night's loss at Golden State. Detroit trailed by 32 at one point in that game before rallying for a respectable 101-97 loss.

There was no saving face this time.

There were empty seats in the arena to begin with, and fans began heading for the exits with 7:57 remaining after the Pistons' Will Bynum missed a soaring one-handed dunk on a breakaway.

Bryant heard occasional "MVP!" chants from the crowd, which included plenty of Lakers fans. It was a far cry from the atmosphere in the building when the Pistons beat the Lakers for the 2004 championship.

"I'm not going to lie to you. I'm disappointed," Kuester said. "There were a lot of their fans here tonight. I was here in 2004, and I know what the Detroit fans are like. Those weren't our fans."

Game notes
Jackson said the Lakers "took a couple bounces" as their flight landed in the Detroit area. They played at Milwaukee on Tuesday night. ... The Lakers' Ron Artest scored three points in a quiet night in Auburn Hills, nearly six years to the day after being involved in the infamous "Malice at the Palace" while playing for the Indiana Pacers. ... Detroit's Austin Daye was called for a flagrant foul with 14.8 seconds left in the first half. Daye grabbed Gasol as the big man was going up under the basket, and Gasol ended up on the ground. ... Detroit's Tracy McGrady, who has battled major knee problems the last two years, went down with a sprained right ankle in the first half but was able to return to the game.