PHOTOS BY JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Lakers and Warriors began their preseason schedule last night at the Stan Sheriff Center. Kobe Bryant passed as the Warriors' Kelenna Azubuike defended.
Lakers, Warriors start season at Sheriff Center
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Despite squandering a 27-point lead, the Golden State Warriors pulled out a thrilling 111-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers to open their preseason schedule last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Golden State guard Troy Hudson drained a jumper from the top of the key with 0.2 seconds left to lift the Warriors to the victory.
Warrior guard Kelenna Azubuike led all scorers with 27 points. Vladimir Radmanovic led the Lakers with 20.
Laker superstar Kobe Bryant played the role of distributor early on, taking only one shot in the first half.
The two-time defending NBA scoring champ kept the ball in his hands in the third quarter and finished with 17 points.
Trailing by 17 after three quarters, the Lakers went on a 21-2 run to open the fourth quarter, taking a 95-93 lead with 6:55 left. After the teams took numerous turns in the lead, Hudson provided the decisive blow with his jumper.
Golden State guard Baron Davis played the entire first quarter and contributed 11 points to a 20-4 Golden State run in the first quarter and the Warriors opened a commanding lead.
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Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis were the headliners entering last night's preseason opener at the Stan Sheriff Center.
But it was Golden State reserve Troy Hudson who provided the decisive blow in the contest, draining a jumper from the top of the key to give the Warriors a thrilling 111-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
What began as a preseason rout turned into an entertaining contest as the Lakers rallied from a 17-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to take a lead with less than 7 minutes left.
The lead changed hands 10 times from then on, the last swing coming on Hudson's jumper.
"It was a play for me to get the ball at the top of the key, flatten out, and either make a shot for myself or for someone else," Hudson said. "I didn't want to shoot it too early, I tried to get it right at the buzzer."
The game's featured stars both did their parts to entertain the crowd, which came to life late in the game as the Lakers, who trailed by as many as 27 in the first half, battled back.
Davis scored 11 points for the Warriors in an appearance limited to the first quarter, going 4-for-5 from the field and hitting all three of his 3-point attempts in 20-4 Golden State run in the first quarter.
But it was Golden State guard Kelenna Azubuike who stole the show for much of the night with a game-high 27 points. Hudson finished with 15.
Bryant played the role of distributor for much of his 20-plus minutes of playing time and didn't score until the 6:10 mark of the third quarter. But he sparked with Lakers with 17 points late in the period.
Radmanovic nailed four 3-pointers to ignite the Lakers in the fourth quarter and led the team with 20 points. Rookie guard Javaris Crittenton scored 18 in his Laker debut and Sasha Vujacic contributed 15.
"I thought the first unit played tentative, too many turnovers," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We had a hard time covering the break and their offensive sets. Our second units and third units were very effective, they were aggressive."
The fans wearing Bryant's old No. 8 or current 24 jerseys would have to wait 8 minutes before seeing the two-time defending NBA scoring champion attempt his first shot.
With the fans practically begging him to shoot, Bryant asserted himself offensively in the third quarter. He scored his first points of the game on a wide-open 3-pointer at the 6:10 mark of the third quarter.
"I'll just be doing a little bit of everything," Bryant said of his role this season. "The guys on the team just have to get adjusted to playing a little different style, we all do.
"You do a little bit of both, sometimes you just go into a scoring mode. I started getting a little more aggressive at the end of the third quarter and try to keep us in the game a little bit."
After trailing by 27, the Lakers closed to within 13 at halftime, but the Warriors scored the first 11 points of the third quarter to stretch the advantage to 69-45.
With Bryant keeping the ball in his hands, the Lakers chipped into the Warriors' lead late in the third quarter.
PHOTOS BY JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Baron Davis of the Warriors blew by the Lakers' Kobe Bryant during first half yesterday.
Radmanovic hit three 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes of the final period as the Lakers crept back into contention and eventually took a 95-93 lead on Andrew Bynum's dunk off a lob from Crittenton at the 6:55 mark.
The teams traded the lead the rest of the way with Ronny Turiaf giving Los Angeles a 110-109 lead with two free throws with 10.9 seconds left.
But after the Warriors took a timeout with 4 seconds left, Hudson pulled up and nailed the winning shot in front of Crittenton.
"He had just shot an airball so I was thinking he'd try to get to the line," Crittenton said. "I gave him a little step, I contested, but he knocked it down. Good shot."
The teams complete their preseason series tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Sheriff Center.
Azubuike makes a name for himself in the NBA
The only thing harder than pronouncing Kelenna Azubuike's name is trying to stop him.
Whether slashing to the basket and finishing over 7-footers, or calmly swishing 3s from the outside, Azubuike showed the total package last night.
The second-year guard finished with a game-high 27 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes as he made his case to be Golden State's new starting 2 guard.
With the trade of Jason Richardson to Charlotte during the summer, it has opened the door for the little-known Azubuike to win the starting job.
"Regardless of what happened (with Jason), I was going to work hard this summer," Azubuike said. "I was sad to see him go, but it has created some great opportunities and we've got enough talent on this team to fill the void."
All five Golden State starters played the entire first quarter, but Azubuike was the only starter who rotated back in after his initial shift.
Coach Don Nelson made it a point this preseason to limit his starters' minutes. But after the Lakers came back from a 24-point deficit to take the lead with less than 5 minutes remaining, the veteran coach turned to Azubuike.
"Azubuike is a different guy," Nelson said. "He could use the extra work."
A lot has changed in a year for the native of England. At this time 12 months ago, Azubuike was practicing with Fort Worth of the NBA Developmental League.
He nearly fell into the trap that has swallowed up many early-entree draftees before him. He declared for the '05 NBA Draft after his junior year at Kentucky, but wasn't one of the 64 players selected. As a free agent, he signed with Cleveland but was waived prior to the start of the season.
He spent more than a year retooling his game in the developmental league. He opened last season as the leading scorer for Fort Worth and was picked up by the Warriors midway through the season after Richardson went down with an injury.
He averaged just over seven points in 41 games with Golden State, including nine starts, but was relegated to the bench once the starter got healthy.
"It was good experience because now I have a better knowledge of Nellie's system," Azubuike said. "Understanding where your shots are going to come and how to set up your man up helps a lot in this system."
His primary competition to replace Richardson has been rookie Marco Belinelli, but the 21-year-old Italian is still getting his feet wet at the NBA level. Azubuike's experience is a big reason he may have an advantage over the rookie, but he knows it's still early.
"It's a preseason game so it doesn't mean much," Azubuike said. "I'm just trying to keep getting better and help this team get better.
That's the most important thing for me."