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LAKERS 99, MEMPHIS 89

Kobe Bryant scores 31 as Lakers end losing streak at two.

Reserves contribute to victory over Grizzlies.

March 04, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

The Memphis Grizzlies have been an elixir throughout the season, arriving in arenas throughout the NBA and providing instant relief for whatever ails the home team.

For the Lakers, the Grizzlies' appearance at Staples Center meant the return of Kobe Bryant's shooting touch and the end of a modest two-game losing streak.

Bryant had 31 points on 12-for-23 shooting and the Lakers defeated the Grizzlies, 99-89, on Tuesday.

It wasn't an entirely great performance, and the fans didn't seem into it until DJ Mbenga provided highlight-reel material on defense in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers (49-12) will take it, moving a full game ahead of Cleveland (47-12) and two games ahead of Boston (47-14) for the league's best record.

They created some temporary doubt after losing Sunday in Phoenix, the Suns somehow winning without Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, but the slump-busting Grizzlies came in with the league's worst road record (3-23) and eventually played the part.

"After two losses, a win's a win," forward Lamar Odom said, and it would be tough to argue.

The Lakers weren't sensational in the first two quarters, leading at halftime, 52-47, and only gradually extending their edge to 78-67 after three quarters.

But win, they did, with odd contributions across the board.

Odom had the stat line of the night, scoring only two points on one-for-eight shooting but collecting 13 rebounds, eight assists and six blocked shots.

"Very unusual night for Lamar," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

The crowd went wild when Mbenga almost took over the fourth quarter, blocking two shots and making two mid-range jumpers, the second of which provided a 90-69 lead with 6:08 to play.

Fans also cheered loudly when Adam Sandler leaned over and kissed fellow actor Jack Nicholson on the cheek during the "kiss-cam" feature a bit later in a fourth-quarter timeout.

Still, Jackson was forced to send Pau Gasol back into the game with 4:22 to play and the Lakers' lead trimmed to 92-81.

Sasha Vujacic made a three-pointer with 4:03 left and then found Josh Powell for an alley-oop dunk to help end the threat.

"There were spots tonight where I thought we played well. . . . I still thought our offense was a little bit rusty here and there," Jackson said.

Bryant, who is on pace for a career-best shooting percentage this season, made only 28 of 69 shots (40.6%) in Lakers losses to Denver and Phoenix before finding the net without difficulty against Memphis (15-44).

He is now shooting 47.4% this season. His best shooting campaign before this season was 46.9% in 2001-02.

He made five of nine shots and scored 12 points in the third quarter. He did not play in the fourth quarter.

Gasol finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. His brother, Marc, a rookie center for Memphis, had 17 points and 14 rebounds.

"I liked the whole game," Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins said. "This is one of the three best teams in the NBA. For us to come in here and be down only five at halftime and be in the game as we go down the stretch, it would have taken a miracle [to win]. We would have had to play a perfect game to win."

None of the Lakers played more than 30 minutes, a luxury they accepted with a smile after looking road-weary last weekend.

They now have two days between games before playing at home Friday against Minnesota.

"Time off is always good," Odom said between gulps of a protein shake and bites of a chocolate bar. "Especially this time of year."

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mike.bresnahan@latimers.com

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