A six-game, 10-day trip left the Lakers weary, leaving Coach Phil Jackson concerned about how his team would find the energy for yet another game.
Jackson didn't have to worry, not with Kobe Bryant providing the energy on a night when he perhaps had the least amount because he still was recovering from flu-like symptoms that zapped his strength Sunday.
On a night Bryant made more history, the Lakers conjured up enough strength to push aside the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-98, Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Lakers now have won seven consecutive games, Bryant making it happen by scoring 34 points, which made him the youngest player in NBA history to reach the 23,000-point milestone.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 12, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Lakers vs. Utah: An information box in Wednesday's Sports section advancing that night's game between the Lakers and Utah Jazz said the game would be played in Staples Center. That game was played in Utah.
But Bryant was not alone in helping the Lakers continue the momentum they built on a 6-0 trip that included big-time wins over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
"The feeling you have when you come back is, 'Well, this will be easier. We're back at home. Everything will go nice and easy,' " Jackson said. "You forget you have to outwork the opponent. I thought our play was just a little bit sloppy tonight. It wasn't as crisp as it was on the road."
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom both continued their strong play.
Gasol had another double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Odom produced a season high in rebounds for the second consecutive game, this time claiming 18 after getting 17 Sunday against the Cavaliers. Odom also had 12 points despite making only six of 17 field-goal attempts.
"He was just beating everybody to the ball," Jackson said of Odom's rebounding. "He took a few away from Pau and beat him to the ball. That's what Lamar is good at."
Bryant reached his milestone moment by making the first of two free throws with 5 minutes 13 seconds left in the second quarter, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain by five days to reach 23,000 at the age of 30 years 171 days.
Though he didn't appear to be at full strength, there were times Bryant had a burst that his teammates fed off of.
"I feel really good," Bryant said. "I got rested up, got fluids in me, got some decent meals in me."
Bryant finished the first quarter with a two-handed dunk and let out a scream.
He finished the second quarter by wrapping the basketball behind his back, going by Russell Westbrook and Earl Watson and easing in for a reverse layup. That led to another scream by Bryant, who now has 23,020 points in his career.
"I was kind of kidding with Kobe and asked if the first points he ever scored when he was 17 they stopped the game and said, 'Here's the youngest person to ever score two points,' " Jackson joked. "Then every 1,000 after that, they stopped the game and said, 'This is the youngest person to ever score 1,000 points.' . . . But he was aggressive tonight and made some spectacular plays."
The Lakers built a 15-point lead and had to hold off the Thunder. Kevin Durant, last season's rookie of the year, had 31 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook, Oklahoma City's top draft pick out of UCLA, had 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers may be tired, but they are back at work tonight. They left after the game for Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz before taking off for the All-Star break.
"We all feel good about this win," Luke Walton said. "We took care of business tonight. It wasn't the prettiest win, but it's all about getting the Ws."
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Lakers' record against teams with various winning percentages:
TO SUB-.500 TEAMS
at Indiana, 118-117, on Dec. 2
at Sacramento, 113-101, on Dec. 9
vs. Charlotte, 117-110, on Jan. 27
Los Angeles Times