Lakers level short-handed Clips to sweep season series

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Walton has been hampered by a strained right hamstring recently, limiting his physical activity. Fact is, all he was able to do for several days was practice shooting.

It paid off Thursday night.

Walton had 18 points, five rebounds and four assists, five teammates scored in double figures, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the short-handed Clippers 106-78 for their fifth win in six games.

Kobe Bryant scored 16 points, Lamar Odom had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Pau Gasol added 13 points for the Lakers (54-25), who moved within 1 1/2 games of the Western Conference-leading New Orleans Hornets entering Friday night's showdown between the teams. The Hornets play three of their last four games on the road while the Lakers finish with three at home.

Walton, who entered having made 23-of-75 3-pointers (30.7 percent), made 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and 7-of-12 overall.

"We really shut it down completely," said Walton, who sat out the Lakers' previous two games. "I couldn't run around. All I could do was stationary shooting."

Odom was the only Lakers starter to play in the final period. Bryant shot just 6-of-17 and backcourt mate Derek Fisher went 3-of-10. But playing against an outmanned opponent, it didn't matter.

"I think it was important for us to establish a rhythm, play well, get ready for tomorrow," Bryant said. "It's an exciting game, it's a big one. We look forward to the challenge. It's kind of practice for the playoffs."

The Hornets have won two of the three games between the teams this season including a 118-104 triumph Nov. 6 that featured a franchise-record 10 3-pointers by Peja Stojakovic.

"We can survive Chris Paul doing his thing," Walton said of the Hornets' standout point guard. "We've got to make sure the other guys don't kill us."

The Lakers put the Clippers away by outscoring them 32-11 to finish the third quarter and start the fourth for a 94-67 lead with 6 1/2 minutes remaining.

"We made shots, finally, although we started pretty slow in the third quarter," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Our defense stepped it up a little better."

Elton Brand, playing his fifth game after missing the season's first 74 while recovering from surgery on his torn left Achilles' tendon, led the Clippers (23-56) with 23 points and seven rebounds. Rookie Al Thornton added 22 points and 10 rebounds.

The Clippers, who have lost 23 of their last 27 games, played without leading rebounder Chris Kaman (sprained right ankle) and leading scorer Corey Maggette (sprained right hamstring). In addition, Quinton Ross came out for good midway through the second quarter because of soreness in his lower left leg.

"We're undermanned, and this is the NBA," Brand said. "Teams are skilled and teams are good, and they can take advantage of that if your bench is depleted. We've got some [NBA Development League] guys that don't know the plays but are working hard. And that's a testament to coach [Mike Dunleavy]."

The Lakers swept the Clippers for the first time in five years, beating their Staples Center co-tenants by an average of 26 points. The teams split their four games in each of the past three seasons.

"Tonight was the story of how things have gone for us," Dunleavy said. "We played hard, but we made some mistakes, missed some easy shots. The Lakers made a bunch of 3's, some of which were shots we shouldn't have given up."

The Lakers shot 11-of-29 from beyond the arc while the Clippers were 2-of-9.

The Lakers extended a nine-point halftime lead to 13 early in the third quarter before Brand made two baskets during a 9-2 spurt that drew the Clippers within six. After a timeout, the Lakers began their game-breaking run after that.

Game notes
The game was played before an announced crowd of 20,084, the Clippers' seventh home sellout this season. ... The Lakers announced earlier Thursday that center Andrew Bynum, who saw a knee specialist in New York this week, has not been cleared for practice. "It's not unexpected," Jackson said. "I think there's a sense of disappointment. He's been looking good, practicing a little bit." Bynum injured his left knee Jan. 13. Jackson said there was no timetable for 7-foot center's return. ... The Clippers finished 13-28 at home, losing 12 of their last 14. They finish with road games at Golden State, New Orleans and Houston. ... Kansas State freshman standout Michael Beasley attended the game. He is one of five finalists for the Wooden Award, to be presented Friday night. Beasley will announce his future plans Monday at a news conference on the Kansas State campus. He's expected to be one of the top picks in the upcoming NBA draft. ... Vladimir Radmanovic scored 11 points and Jordan Farmar added 10 for the Lakers, who shot 48.8 percent and held the Clippers to 36.1 percent.