It hasn't taken long for Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant to get comfortable playing together.
Gasol had 30 points and nine rebounds to go with Bryant's 36 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 117-113 Friday night.
It was just Gasol's third game in a Laker uniform, but he and Bryant ran the pick-and-roll play so effectively, they looked as though they had been playing together for years.
They combined for 39 points in the first half to help Bryant's team withstand a 64-point first half by Howard's team.
"With all (Gasol's) skills, it's going to be a seamless transition for us," Bryant said. "He has the ability to do everything on the floor, whether it?s pass, shoot, rebound or defend. Adding him makes us a very strong team."
Gasol was 12-fopt-15 from the field, beating Howard's team defenders from both the perimeter and in the paint.
"Having Kobe takes a whole lot of pressure off my shoulders," Gasol said. "This is an amazing opportunity for me and I want to make the very best of it every single night."
Gasol's biggest contribution may have been keeping Howard's team center Dwight Howard in foul trouble.
Gasol drew four fouls against Howard, who played only 29 minutes. Howard was 8-for-8 from the field and had 11 rebounds, but was on the bench for much of the third period when Bryant's team took control of the game. He had to play timidly when he finally returned with just over nine minutes left in the game.
"He (Gasol) was the guy that beat us," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He did everything for them. He was scoring, passing and even getting our big guy (Howard) in foul trouble. We couldn't contain him at all."
Howard's team scored a franchise record 44 points in the first quarter, but had to juggle their lineups in the second and third periods when foul trouble benched Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. Howard's team fell behind by as many as 14 points in the third quarter before rallying to take the lead 112-111 with 1:49 to play on a pair of free throws by Turkoglu.
However, Turkoglu missed a wide-open 3-pointer on Orlando's next possession and Bryant's team scored the next seven to win the game.
"Me and Dwight should have been smarter and stayed out of foul trouble," said Turkoglu, who had to miss the last 6:30 of the second quarter after picking up his third foul. "We're two of the most important players on the team and we've got to find a way to stay on the floor."
Derek Fisher added 14 points and seven assists for Bryant's team and Lamar Odom added 12 points as Bryant's team won for the fourth time in their last five games.
Jameer Nelson had 17 points and nine assists for Howard's team, who had seven players score in double figures, but couldn't contain Bryant and Gasol.
Bryant hit two free throws with a minute to play to give Bryant's team a 113-112 lead. Howard was called for goaltending on a shot by Odom with 30.5 seconds to make it 115-112.
Rashard Lewis missed a three-pointer with 15 seconds to play that could have tied the game and Bryant settled the issue with two more free throws to make it 117-112.
Bryant's team trailed 64-63 at halftime, but started the second half with a 15-4 run to go ahead for the first time. Howard got his fourth and fifth on consecutive possessions and was back on the bench with 5:22 left in the third period.
Bryant drew the fifth foul on a drive to the basket and converted the layup for the first of three straight three-point plays for Bryant's team. Gasol had the last of those and two more jumpers in the 11-2 run that pushed Bryant's team' lead to 89-75. Bryant's team settled for a 98-87 lead going in the fourth quarter.
Howard's team shot 75 percent from the field and scored a franchise-record 44 points in the first quarter to go up 44-33. Brian Cook made a 3-pointer at the buzzer and Howard's team went 8-for-11 from beyond the arc in the period.
Howard and Turkoglu both got in foul trouble in the second period and Bryant's team rallied. Bryant had 22 points and Gasol 17 as Bryant's team cut their deficit to 64-63 at halftime.