LOS ANGELES (AP) — If Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers' legion of fans get their wish, Bernie Bickerstaff's stint as a lame-duck interim head coach will end undefeated.
Howard had 23 points and 18 rebounds, Bryant scored 20, and the in-transition Lakers continued warming up for a possible return to the bench by Phil Jackson with a 103-89 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
Bickerstaff called the shots for the second straight game following the firing of Mike Brown on Friday with the team off to a 1-4 start — their worst in 19 years. They throttled Golden State 101-77 at Staples Center several hours after the change.
"Basically what we talked about this morning was the profound appreciation of their professionalism and how they have handled things," Bickerstaff said. "I've been around a lot of teams, and this is the consummate professional group. No one's naive. They've been around a long time and we've been around a long time, so they understand."
Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak remain in negotiations with Jackson, whom they are trying to coax out of retirement for what would be his third coaching stint with the organization.
The 67-year-old Hall of Famer guided the club to five NBA titles and won six others with the Chicago Bulls. He walked away after the Lakers were swept by Dallas in the second round of the 2011 playoffs — denying the Zen Master his fourth three-peat.
"I'd be excited to have him out there," Bryant said. "I'm sure something will happen sooner than later. I mean, this organization moves pretty quickly once they have a direction on where they want to go and they always makes the right decision. For us players, we just go out there and do our jobs. It isn't anything that's been a distraction for us, but it's just been a long week for everybody."
This is the first time the Lakers changed head coaches during a season since 2004-05, when Rudy Tomjanovich left midway through the first year of a five-year contract due to health issues and was replaced by Frank Hamblen. It's the third time Bickerstaff has taken over the reins of an NBA team after a season was underway, including 1994-95 with Denver (20-12) and 1996-97 with Washington (22-13).
The Lakers have now changed head coaches on the fly in six of their 53 years in Los Angeles. On two of those occasions, they went on to win an NBA title. In 1979-80, Paul Westhead relieved Jack McKinney with the team off to a 10-4 start after McKinney was hospitalized due to a serious bicycle accident. Westhead was fired in 1981-82 with a 7-4 record, shortly after Magic Johnson publicly criticized him, and Pat Riley guided the team to the first of four championships under his watch.
"My job is to coach the team until they ring the bell," Bickerstaff said. "But listen. What's the reality here? I mean, we all know what's going on and I understand that. But I consented to do this for the organization, and I'm not worried about the big picture."
The Kings were forced to play short-handed with center DeMarcus Cousins and backup forward Thomas Robinson serving suspensions without pay. Forward Jason Thompson, shifting to center in place of Cousins, had 15 points and 10 assists for Sacramento before fouling out with 9:46 left. Jimmer Fredette scored a team-high 18, most coming after the outcome was long decided.