Led by Bryant, Lakers Clinch Playoff Spot
L.A. Lakers 109, Phoenix 89
LOS ANGELES, April 16 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant has carried the Los Angeles Lakers back to the playoffs.
Bryant scored 27 of his 43 points in the first half as the Lakers clinched a postseason spot with a 109-89 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
"Everyone is not jumping for joy with finally making the playoffs but it is a big accomplishment for us being that we didn't make it last year and nobody expected us to make it this year and here we are," Bryant said.
"It is good to be back in the playoffs again," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who left the franchise after the club lost the 2004 NBA Finals to Detroit. "It's an important step for this club because of the number of young players we have that haven't been there in the playoffs and experienced them."
The league's leading scorer and an MVP candidate, Bryant again led the way for the Lakers, who are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.
In his 27th 40-point game of the season, Bryant made 11-of-28 shots and 20-of-23 free throws in 37 minutes.
"We are a much better team right now," Bryant said. "We are playing really well and executing very well. We are moving the ball and defensively we are working hard, hustling and closing out the shots."
Facing a Suns (52-28) team that already had locked up the Pacific Division title and was playing without reigning MVP Steve Nash (thigh) and Raja Bell (quad), the Lakers dominated from the outset, never trailing and leading by as many as 26 points.
"We knew we had to go out there and win this game today with Nash and Raja Bell not playing," Odom said. "We have to just keep playing the way we are playing and if we face them in the playoffs it should be an interesting series."
The Lakers built a 16-1 lead less than four minutes into the game and held a 35-22 advantage after 12 minutes behind Bryant's 14 points. They extended the margin to 62-41 at the half.
Kwame Brown had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who beat the Suns for the first time in four tries.
Shawn Marion scored 29 points, Leandro Barbosa 16 and Boris Diaw 11 and 12 assists for Phoenix, which is just 5-7 in its last 12 games.
"There eight teams and they will all be difficult," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We will see who gets there. Right now it is the Lakers, but it could be Sacramento. We will have to play well to beat anyone. We are looking forward to whoever it is."