L.A. Lakers 111, Boston 98

BOSTON, Jan. 31 (AP) -- In Gary Vitti's 23 years as the Los Angeles trainer, a tenure that dates to the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 1980s, he has heard his share of chants from the Boston fans.

"Beat L.A.,'' usually.

But cheering for a Lakers player: This was a first.

Kobe Bryant returned from his one-game suspension and scored 43 points, helping the Lakers beat the Celtics 111-98 Wednesday night and winning over the Boston fans who stayed to watch their once-proud franchise match a record with its 13th consecutive loss.

"When you miss a game, you come back with a new energy,'' Bryant said. "I was just really excited to be out there playing.''

It was Bryant's fourth career game with 40 or more points against the Celtics, and he got it by taking over the game after Boston cut the deficit to 63-62 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. He hit a pair of 3-pointers to make it a seven-point game and made a 30-footer at the end of the quarter to give the Lakers a 10-point lead.

He scored 15 in the third and 12 more in the fourth, throwing down a reverse dunk in the final 2 minutes to electrify the fans who weren't already heading for the exits. He made a 3-pointer on the Lakers' next possession and then, when Los Angeles got the ball back, some fans chanted "Kobe!'' and others, "M.V.P!''

"Gary Vitti was in there telling me how shocked he was, that he heard an 'M.V.P.' chant here in Boston,'' Bryant said. "But I really appreciated it.''

Ryan Gomes scored 23 points, Gerald Green had 22 and Al Jefferson had 10 with 14 rebounds for Boston, which last lost 13 straight in 1996-97. Reserve Brian Scalabrine had a season-high 17 points, and Delonte West scored 10 with nine assists.

The Celtics are 2-19 since star Paul Pierce went out on Dec. 20 with a stress reaction in his left foot that was supposed to keep him out for about three weeks. The NBA's most decorated franchise, with a record 16 championships, needs to beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night to avoid a record 14th straight loss.

"Well, I guess that's one way to get in the record books,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Not the way you want to.''

Bryant was suspended by the NBA after whacking - accidentally, he said - San Antonio's Manu Ginobili in the face on Sunday. Without him, the Lakers lost to the New York Knicks on Tuesday night for their third defeat in a row.

Bryant, who came in averaging 28.4 points, 5.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds, said he spent his night off pacing in his hotel room, feeling "like a kid that was grounded.''

"I couldn't go outside and play on the swings,'' he said before the game.

"I was finally able to run out in the yard,'' he said after. "Just have a good time. I have so much fun playing.''

Bryant started quickly, hitting the first basket against the Celtics and a pair of 3-pointers at the end of the first quarter. He had 16 points at halftime, and coach Phil Jackson encouraged him to play more aggressively.

In the second half, Bryant did just that.

"We know he's going to take the big shot. We know he's going to take the game over in the fourth quarter,'' Lakers guard Smush Parkersaid. "That's his time to shine.''

Notes: Tennis star Jim Courier was in the crowd. ... Wally Szczerbiak was called for a flagrant foul for taking down Ronny Turiaf near the end of the third quarter. ... The Celtics also lost 13 in a row in the 1993-94 season.


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