L.A. Lakers 102, Utah 95
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (Ticker) --
Now that Kobe Bryant
is back, the Los
Angeles Lakers have hope.
In his second game back from a sprained ankle and his first home
game since suffering the injury Jan. 13, Bryant scored 40
points and had eight assists to lead the Lakers to a 102-95
victory over the Utah Jazz.
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Bryant missed 14 games with the injury but returned for the
finale of Los Angeles' 1-4 road trip, scoring 26 points in
Sunday's 103-89 loss at Cleveland.
"Yeah, I was gone for a while," Bryant said. "So I needed a game
under my belt to get my legs back and get my rhythm back. It's
The All-Star guard teamed with Caron Butler
and Chucky Atkins
erase a big second-half deficit against the Jazz.
"It was a big win for us," Bryant said. "We've been working on a
lot of things in practice and playing a team like Utah is a good
test for us to see if we can execute it. We did a good job
Bryant scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including the
Lakers' first eight of a 27-12 run to close the game. His
follow shot with three minutes left gave Los Angeles an 89-88
lead, its first since late in the first quarter.
Butler scored 23 points, including nine during a 22-10 surge
late in the third. That push cut into the Jazz's 62-49 lead,
their largest, and set up the fourth-quarter charge.
Atkins added 24 points and hit a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left
to put Los Angeles ahead for good, 96-95.
The Lakers were without Lamar Odom
, who sat with the flu.
"I have to be a little bit more aggressive, a little more
assertive on offense and choosing my spots," Butler said of
playing without Odom. "Everybody was stepping up, it was a
But it was Bryant who took control when Los Angeles needed it
The Lakers failed to make a shot for the first 6:40 of the
fourth quarter until Bryant's three-point play cut the deficit to 83-80.
Los Angeles hit all six of its free throws in the final minute
to enter the All-Star break on a winning note after going 6-8
"I think we did a good job (in the first half of the season)
considering all of the things we have been through," Bryant
said. "We are finding ourselves with a lot of room to improve
and we know exactly what areas to improve on and how to improve
upon them, so it's going to be an exciting second half."
Utah was in control until late despite playing without forwards
and Andrei Kirilenko
, who both sprained their
right ankles in a loss at Phoenix on Monday.
Without their top two starters, the Jazz reserves outscored the
Lakers' bench, 50-2. Mehmet Okur
led the way with 20 points and
eight rebounds off the bench.
"I was thinking that this had to be some kind of record," Bryant
said of the benches' scoring disparity. "But the only thing
that matters is we won."
Utah coach Jerry Sloan
expressed frustration on how easy it
was for Bryant to get to the line. He made 15-of-19 free
throws, including a pair in the final minute to help seal it.
"Obviously they are going to get to the free-throw line," Sloan
said. "Or at least it always appears that way if they
(referees) won't let you touch him. The guy doesn't have to
have it in his possession and the guy throws it up in the
air and goes to the free-throw line."