LOS ANGELES, Jan. 9 (Ticker) -- For years, Kobe Bryant has shouldered the burden of constant comparisons to Michael Jordan. Now, his name officially can be mentioned alongside another one of the all-time greats.

Bryant continued his recent scoring binge by pouring in 45 points to carry the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight win, a 96-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

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By scoring at least 45 points for the fourth straight game, Bryant became the first player to accomplish the feat since the legendary Wilt Chamberlain in November 1964.

"It means a lot," Bryant said. "His company means a lot."

"Kobe Bryant is a great player," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "Maybe the best player in the league right now. He is that good."

Since coming back from a two-game suspension for a violent elbow last week, Bryant has played with a chip on his shoulder, averaging 47.7 points in the three games - all Lakers victories.

Los Angeles, which had dropped five straight prior to Bryant's return, got another dominant performance from its All-Star guard in this one.

"Our foul trouble made it tough," Carlisle said. "(Bryant) gets you into foul trouble, and double-teams get other people open shots. We mixed a lot of different things and some were effective. Other times, you just have to hope he misses."

The 27-year-old superstar did not miss much Monday, connecting on 14-of-32 shots from the field and 15-of-21 from the foul line. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including the biggest - and maybe most difficult - basket he attempted all night.

"They are a physical team," said Bryant, who had scored 45, 48 and 50 points, respectively, in his last three games. "My jumper wasn't really falling as well as I would like it to. I was just attacking the rim."

With the game tied at 85-85, Bryant drove to the basket from the right wing and managed to drill a short jumper through a triple-team despite getting fouled, giving the Lakers the lead for good.

"I have no idea who hit me from behind," Bryant said of the hard foul from Jeff Foster. "I couldn't see because I got cracked on the noggin. Thank God I have a hard head."

Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal missed a pair of free throws - including a third that he was awarded following a lane violation - with 1:34 left to keep the deficit at 87-85.

"We were there until I coughed the game up," O'Neal said. "We had an opportunity to tie but I missed some free throws. A player at my position has got to make those. I shot 8-for-21 (from the floor). I have got to make sure I shoot a better percentage. At the end of the game, I felt like I let the team down."

Lamar Odom, who had missed his first four 3-pointers, made O'Neal pay by drilling a shot from the arc for a 90-85 lead with 1:20 to go.

"I had missed a couple of threes earlier in the game," said Odom, who scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. "I had this opportunity and I just let it fly. We're back in a groove and it feels good."

O'Neal's problems from the foul line were symbolic of the struggles in the fourth quarter for the Pacers, who made just 8-of-16 free throws in the period and shot just 8-of-22 (36 percent) from the floor in the session.

"I don't make excuses," O'Neal said. "I just have to come up with it. If I want to be a big-time player, I have to make big time things happen. And that's making free throws. I can go 30-for-30 and miss the last four shots and that is still inexcusable to me."

Playing without Ron Artest - who is on the inactive list and would have drawn the assignment of guarding Bryant - the Pacers continued to lean on O'Neal, who scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Anthony Johnson added 14 points and rookie Danny Granger chipped in 12 for Indiana, which had won three of its last four games.

Other than Bryant and Odom, no other Laker scored in double digits. Kwame Brown did contribute nine points and nine rebounds for Los Angeles, which shot only 42 percent (34-of-80) from the field.

"The game was a little lethargic," said Bryant, who also had 10 rebounds and five assists. "If you ask Jermaine, I'm sure he'd say the same thing. We have to step up our aggressiveness in a game like this."