Lakers Overtake Kings for Seventh in West
L.A. Lakers 87, Sacramento 80
LOS ANGELES, March 22 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant sparked the Los Angeles Lakers to a dominant start and added the exclamation point at the finish.
Bryant scored 28 points and Kwame Brown added a season-high 21 with 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who posted an 87-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings in a pivotal Western Conference battle.
"We're playing good basketball," said Bryant, who averaged 36.3 points in four meetings against the Kings this season. "We feel like we can carry it over into the playoffs."
The Lakers shot 60 percent (12-of-20) from the floor in the first quarter to open a 30-14 lead. Smush Parker scored the first five points, Bryant made all five shots to score 10 and Lamar Odom had a 3-pointer and two dunks.
"I should have gotten myself more involved in the first nine minutes," Kings forward Ron Artest said. "I had to have gotten myself more involved in the first quarter."
"They started out fast and jumped us and I just tried to bring a little energy that probably was lacking a little bit," Kings swingman Bonzi Wells said.
Trailing, 44-24, in the second quarter, Sacramento cut the deficit as Artest scored 10 points - including two shots from the arc - and Mike Bibby hit a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to make it 50-40.
However, Bryant, who made 11-of-20 shots, drilled a 3-pointer with one second left before halftime.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim made a pair of free throws and a 14-foot jumper early in the fourth quarter as the Kings reduced the margin to 72-64. The Lakers answered with a follow shot by Brown and a 3-pointer by Odom with 8:55 remaining.
Sacramento made one final bid with a 14-4 run down the stretch, capped by a follow dunk by Brad Miller to make it 85-80 with 1:01 left. Bryant sealed the victory with a fallaway baseline jumper with 40 seconds to play.
"We lost, so it doesn't mean much how I guarded (Bryant)," Artest said. "He hit that last shot, I was like, 'That's Kobe.' He is wide open; he is going to hit it."
"We made some runs," Wells said. "We got it down to five but just couldn't get all the way back. It was just tough to get past that five-point mark."
In his first season with the Lakers after four with Washington, Brown made 8-of-12 shots and recorded his first double-double since January 14.
"I have been a bench player and I had to play my role, which was playing defense and rebounding," Brown said. "My role has changed a little bit with (center Chris Mihm) being out a whole month. So I had to start looking for a little more offense."
"It makes me very proud of him," Bryant said. "I look at all these guys here like little brothers. And he is out there in practice and working hard. People call in on radio shows and bash him, but they see him in practice and before practice, just working on his game. His improvement tonight just didn't come out of nowhere."
Odom scored 13 points and Parker added 10 for the Lakers, who forced 19 turnovers and made 6-of-14 from the arc.
Artest scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Wells scored 15 points and Abdur-Rahim 14 for the Kings, who have dropped 14 of 20 road games.
"Tonight, Kobe hit the big shot in the corner which he does all the time," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "And Kwame Brown got too many second-chance points and tip-ins because we were forced to help on guys. I think we played hard but not good enough."