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Basketball / Sports

Lakers stay in beast mode against feeble East, beat Raptors

TORONTO -- Imagine how much happier the Los Angeles Lakers would be if they played in the Eastern Conference.

No severe losing streaks. Fewer excruciating nights on defense. More victories.

If only.

But so far they're taking advantage of six consecutive games against the East, beating the Toronto Raptors, 112-106, Sunday at Air Canada Centre.

Their winning streak stands at two after they also beat Boston, and they've won consecutive games for the first time in almost a month (Dec. 17 and 20).

"Has it been that long?" Pau Gasol said with raised eyebrows.

Yes. It has.

The Lakers had a nice bounce against the East's third-place team. Of course, it meant Toronto was only 20-19 after losing.

Nick Young returned, happily, from a one-game suspension with a season-high 29 points. Ryan Kelly didn't look like a rookie and had 17 points in his first NBA start.

Predictably, Young smiled the entire time as he spoke to reporters afterward. Unpredictably, he took credit for the Lakers' fight last Wednesday against Phoenix, the one where he punched Goran Dragic in the face and later said teammates failed to show any support.

"We had a little altercation that woke us all up," Young said. "We're out there battling with each other now. ... We sat down and talked and now we're just laying it out there. I went on my little retreat, got my mind right and I came back and these guys made it easy for me tonight."

Maybe more Lakers should go on "retreats." Young made five of seven from three-point range, the Lakers 12 of 22 as a team.

They hit the halfway point of the regular season, which hit them back plenty of times in three abysmal months. Almost nobody has been healthy for the Lakers (16-25), nobody's really played defense and only two victories had arrived in their previous 14 games.

But Kelly and Young scored 14 of the Lakers' last 18 points Sunday, Kelly starting their final push with a fall-down leaner with 6 minutes 20 seconds to play.

"People look at me and they say I'm this tall, skinny white guy. I've got a little bit of game," said Kelly, a second-round draft pick from Duke who made five of seven shots and all six of his free throws against Toronto.

Coach Mike D'Antoni used his 21st different starting lineup in 41 games. Then he said, accurately, "Ryan Kelly's stepping up huge for us."

Gasol continued his recent string of solid games, finishing with 22 points and nine rebounds. His averages in nine games this month -- 20.4 points and 11.8 rebounds.

"Pau's ballin'," Young said. "Twenty and 10 roughly the last eight games or something like that. He's doing what he do. He's just been showing it."

The Lakers seemed thankful for the East, even though they lost at home a few weeks ago to two of the conference's worst -- Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

But Young said he and teammate Wesley Johnson looked at this trip ahead of time and hoped for five victories against the East. They're 2-0 so far with four to go before heading home -- Chicago, Miami, Orlando and New York.

DeMar DeRozan had 23 points for Toronto, whose bid for the first season-series sweep of the Lakers in its 19-year existence was denied.

Not everything was ice cream cones and sundaes for the Lakers. Their big-picture highlight after Sunday's game was pulling into a 12th-place tie with New Orleans in the West.

There were a lot of questions about them coming into the season. There are still plenty at its midpoint.

"Those haven't been answered, not to the way we wanted it," D'Antoni said. "We found some guys that can play and they're getting more confidence every day ... but some of the guys that have to get healthy haven't gotten healthy yet.

"We were reeling halfway through (last season), we turned it around ... and made the playoffs. This year, we've got a bigger hole to get out of with maybe less players."

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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