Kobe Bryant's colorful history with the Sacramento Kings reached new territory this week when he heard chants of "MVP! MVP!" during a Los Angeles Lakers' victory - in Sacramento.
The Lakers will look for their fourth straight win overall and seventh in a row at home on Sunday when they face the struggling Kings.
Bryant's career against Los Angeles' Pacific Division rivals has included 26 30-point games, a 3-0 record in playoff series and a bizarre incident involving food poisoning from a hotel cheeseburger. But he had never before earned such praise in Sacramento as when he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 117-105 win there on Monday.
He had 34 points and 10 rebounds in that game, and in his last nine contests against the Kings, he's averaged 33.8 points and posted five double-doubles.
"He really stepped it up, really took it to the hole, really took it personally," Lakers center Pau Gasol said Monday. "We know what he's capable of doing. I know he can take over games. He's so gifted athletically and skill-wise. He's got a tremendous passion inside him. The way he attacked tonight, it was the kind of effort we need every night."
Bryant didn't need to do much on Friday, when he had just 16 points in 31 minutes of the Lakers' 119-82 blowout of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers (44-18) won for the 13th time in 14 games to take a half-game lead over San Antonio atop the Western Conference.
"It just means that we are heading towards the right direction and we are playing well, we are playing hard and we are getting wins," Gasol said. "That's what it means. We are focusing on ourselves and we are going from there."
Seven players scored in double figures against the Clippers as the Lakers outscored them 70-41 in the second half.
"They're a good team. They have the best player in the world (Bryant) on their team," Clippers center Chris Kaman said. "They play really well together, they pass the ball, everybody plays with each other and they don't care who scores."
No matter how much Kevin Martin scores, the Kings (27-35) can't seem to win. Martin had a career-high 48 points on Friday, but Sacramento still became just the third team to lose at home to Minnesota this season, falling 111-103.
The Kings have lost three in a row and seven of eight.
Martin had 23 points against the Lakers on Monday, but just one in the fourth quarter. He had 19 in the final period against the Timberwolves, but it wasn't enough to spark a comeback.
"We've got to go back to playing hard, whoever is playing on the court for us," Martin said. "We've got to find some chemistry and go with it. It was definitely a night I would like to trade for a team win."
Martin wasn't the only one to question the Kings' effort as they fade from playoff contention. Coach Reggie Theus didn't name names, but called out a "couple of guys here who aren't playing hard anymore," calling the development "very disappointing."
Ron Artest hasn't played at all in Sacramento's last two games because of a sore right foot. The injury comes the same week Artest was fined by the Kings after making comments deemed "detrimental" to the team.
The Kings have lost five straight road games, including 116-109 in double overtime to the Clippers at Staples Center on Wednesday.
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