LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, Ron Artest added 15 points and five steals, and the Los Angeles Lakers raced away from the Phoenix Suns in the second half of their ninth straight victory, 108-88 Sunday night.
Pau Gasol scored 14 points for the well-rested Lakers, who improved to an NBA-best 16-3 with their second home win in 24 days over road-weary Phoenix.
Two nights after Bryant banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer in a one-point win over Miami, the defending NBA champions didn't need another lucky shot. They made a 15-1 run late in the third quarter, holding Phoenix without a field goal for 3 1/2 minutes while jumping to a 23-point lead.
Amare Stoudemire had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Suns, who scored their fewest points of the season while playing their sixth game in six cities over the past 10 days.
Bryant had nine points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer that put the Lakers up by 21. The Suns trimmed the lead to 14 points in the fourth before Shannon Brown hit back-to-back 3-pointers, finishing with 12 points.
Steve Nash had 12 points and 10 assists for the Suns while playing just 29 minutes, and Grant Hill had 12 points. Both veterans sat out the fourth quarter along with Stoudemire, taking a break in a demanding stretch of travel for the surprising Suns (15-6), who have lost three straight road games by an average of more than 21 points.
The Lakers realize their fast start is a partial product of an exceptionally generous early-season schedule. Los Angeles hasn't played outside of California since Nov. 13, with 15 of its first 19 games at home overall – and two more games still remaining in a six-game homestand.
Los Angeles also met its closest pursuers in the Pacific Division under fortunate circumstances twice this season. On Nov. 12, the rested Lakers beat Phoenix at home 121-102, one night after the Suns played a tough home game – just as they did Saturday night against Sacramento.
The Lakers played their league-high 15th home game, while Phoenix had its league-high 14th on the road.
Los Angeles had a superior jump from the opening tip. The Lakers raced to an 11-point lead in the first quarter and hit six 3-pointers in the half, taking a 54-44 halftime lead with late 3-pointers by Artest and Derek Fisher.
A meeting of two high-scoring teams took on a physical bent in the third quarter, with aggressive defensive play by Lamar Odom and Amare Stoudemire catching on with both clubs. Artest also played with visible aggression, harassing Phoenix's star scorers while hitting his outside shot.
NOTES: Referee David Jones left the game in the first quarter after a bout of dizziness. He was taken to a hospital, and the game continued with two referees – Kevin Fehr and Derrick Stafford. ... After Friday's home game against Minnesota, 19 of the Lakers' next 28 games are on the road. ... Gasol missed the Lakers' first meeting with Phoenix with a hamstring injury. Los Angeles is 8-0 since his return to the lineup.