EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Lakers had a brief scare, and it had nothing to do with another large lead disappearing.
Kobe Bryant went down after a collision and stayed there for a minute before walking slowly to the locker room near the end of the second quarter Friday against the New Jersey Nets.
Luckily for the Lakers, he returned to start the third quarter.
Luckily for Bryant, he had Pau Gasol as a teammate.
Bryant wasn't stopped by a sprained right ankle, and Gasol wasn't stopped by anybody on the Nets, scoring a season-high 36 points to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers clinched the top seeding for the Western Conference playoffs with a 103-95 victory over the Nets at the Izod Center.
The Lakers (58-14) breezed through another city on their seven-game trip and moved to 4-0, three victories away from being the first team to ever sweep a trip of that length.
There's a lot to do between now and then, including daily injury updates on Bryant, who was hurt after colliding with Nets guard Devin Harris with 55.2 seconds left in the second quarter. Bryant was called for a charge on the play, and Harris fell on his ankle.
Bryant taped it up and returned in the third quarter, where he scored 12 points on four-for-eight shooting. He finished with 14 points on uncharacteristically poor five-for-19 shooting.
"It was just burning, a lot of burning," Bryant said of the ankle. "I didn't roll it or anything like that. A guy just landed on it, jammed it. It's more a tendon than anything. Just trying to get the tendon to calm down, trying to let it not swell up too much."
He laughed when asked if there was only a 50% chance he would play Sunday against Atlanta.
"You know I'm playing," he said. "It's just a matter if I'm playing [poorly] or playing good to help the team out. I'll be ready to go."
Gasol will be there as well, despite playing almost 45 minutes against New Jersey.
His 17-footer gave the Lakers a 97-90 lead with 1:21 to play, and his baseline dunk pretty much wrapped up the game, providing a 101-95 lead with 31.4 seconds left.
He was dominant, deft and very efficient, making 14 of 19 shots.
"That's the way I like to describe myself -- an efficient player," Gasol said. "I try to be effective, try to contribute in different ways because I think I can. It's nothing too spectacular, nothing too crazy, but it's just efficient and productive."
The Lakers weren't always productive Friday, losing most of a 14-point second-quarter lead by halftime and most of a 22-point third-quarter lead midway through the fourth quarter. They can blame their reserves for a poor showing.
But win the Lakers did, guaranteeing themselves home court throughout the Western playoffs.
"We're fortunate," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We didn't have a whole lot of injuries outside of Andrew [Bynum] this year that limited us. We had some momentum and kept it this year."
On the other hand, this is still only the regular season, as Bryant pointed out when he said he was "not really" excited to clinch the West's top seeding.
"It's a good accomplishment, but we have a lot of work ahead of us," he said.
Along the way, Jackson coached his 728th game with the Lakers, passing Pat Riley for most games coached in franchise history.
"I don't know if that's an honor or detriment," Jackson said, smiling. "I'm sure it's an honor -- longevity has something to do with it -- but I've been telling Jeanie [Buss] she saddled me with this job for the last three or four years, so I've accepted it willingly."
Buss is Jackson's longtime girlfriend and a Lakers executive.
Jackson's achievement was one of many Friday for the Lakers. Maybe there will be others between now and June.
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A lot of baggage
In the shot-clock era, no team has gone 7-0 on a single trip -- the Lakers are 4-0 on a seven-game trip. Teams that won every game on a six-game trip:
*--* Team Dates Philadelphia 76ers Dec. 25, 1984-Jan. 5, 1985 Milwaukee Bucks Jan. 24, 1985-Feb. 2, 1985 Portland Trail Blazers April 2, 1991-April 10, 1991 Chicago Bulls Nov. 20, 1991-Nov. 30, 1991 Utah Jazz Dec. 14, 1994-Dec. 22, 1994 Miami Heat Nov. 19, 1996-Nov. 27, 1996 Lakers Feb. 15, 2000-Feb. 23, 2000 Sacramento Kings March 28, 2002-April 5, 2002 Dallas Mavericks March 18, 2007-March 27, 2007 Lakers Jan. 30, 2009-Feb. 8, 2009 *--*
Note -- San Antonio won eight games in a row on a nine-game trip during the 2002-03 season (Jan. 29-Feb. 16). The Spurs lost the first game of the trip.
Source: STATS LLC