Lakers snap 5-game skid, but Andrew Bynum injured
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) Kobe Bryant scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their five-game losing streak at a potentially high cost, losing center Andrew Bynum to a hyperextended right knee in a 102-93 victory over the San Antonio Spurs' role players Tuesday night.
The Lakers' hopes for a third straight NBA title might have taken a significant blow when Bynum fell to the court after stepping on DeJuan Blair's foot during the second period. The shot-blocking 7-footer will have an MRI on Wednesday while the Lakers wrap up the regular season at Sacramento.
Lamar Odom scored 23 points as the Lakers struggled to hold off the Spurs, who rested stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker with the Western Conference's top seed already wrapped up.
Gary Neal scored 16 points and Matt Bonner had 13 for the Spurs, whose four-game winning streak ended.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't worry about falling into a tie with surging Chicago (61-20) for the NBA's best overall record, yet his junior varsity nearly knocked off the discombobulated Lakers, who couldn't breathe easily until Bryant's 3-pointer put them up 96-88 with 2:55 to play.
Pau Gasol had 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Lakers (56-25), who will get the No. 2 seed in the West with a win at Sacramento or a loss by Dallas (56-25).
The Lakers hadn't won since April 1, falling apart after a sparkling 17-1 stretch. They still haven't fixed the defensive execution issues that have plagued them this month - but if Bynum's potential absence doesn't get the champs' attention, maybe it can't be got.
Bynum was hurt while getting back on defense, awkwardly tumbling to the court and nearly doing the splits while putting an inordinate amount of weight on his right knee. After he walked to the locker room, Bynum told Phil Jackson at halftime he was "going to be OK," according to the coach.
Bryant describes the shot-blocking center as the Lakers' most important defensive player, and his absence from the 2008 NBA finals was one reason Los Angeles lost to Boston before winning the next two championship series with Bynum in the middle. Bynum had surgery last summer to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Bryant played with a short fuse and a scowl even before Bynum's injury. He earned his 15th technical foul of the season for arguing in the third quarter, picking up a T in his third straight game and moving right to the brink of an NBA-mandated one-game suspension.
Bryant punctuated the tantrum by punching a chair on the bench. If he gets another technical foul in the season finale, the suspension would be for the first game of next season.
If the Spurs and Bulls finish with the same record, every tiebreaker is even, so a random drawing would determine who got homecourt advantage in the NBA finals - a nonexistent concern to Popovich, a four-time NBA champion.
The Spurs' patchwork starting lineup included Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter and George Hill Jr. The Lakers took an early 10-point lead but couldn't hold it, giving up a 13-1 run and going into halftime tied at 45 with the Spurs' role players.
San Antonio took a lead on Danny Green's jumper with 7:28 to play, but Odom's three-point play put the Lakers right back ahead.
NOTES: The Lakers played without backup point guard Steve Blake, who will miss at least two games after contracting chicken pox, and reserve forward Matt Barnes, who rested his sore right knee. ... Veteran C Theo Ratliff appeared in just his second game for the Lakers since Nov. 9, playing 2 minutes. He missed most of the season after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. ... Fans near courtside included Dennis Haysbert and director Adam McKay.
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