Dwight Howard cheers on his team after L.A. takes a commanding lead in the… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Kobe Bryant wasn't at Staples Center for obvious reasons Sunday.
But his prerecorded message to teammates hung in the air of the Lakers' locker room after their 91-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
It can't be printed here, the curse words definitely of the stronger variety, but Bryant's appeal was delivered Saturday by a 30-second video recorded on General Manager Mitch Kupchak's cellphone.
Kupchak visited him earlier that day before Bryant underwent surgery for a torn left Achilles' tendon.
The video went something like this: Get the job done, we've worked too hard, don't even think of giving up and I'll be watching you guys on TV. Now go out and win.
So the Lakers did against the Spurs, moving 1½ games ahead of Utah for the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
The Lakers (44-37) will make the playoffs if they win a home game Wednesday against Houston or if Utah (42-38) loses one of its last two games (Monday at Minnesota and Wednesday at Memphis).
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 17 rebounds in a game with plenty of shoddy shooting. Steve Blake had 23 points, two shy of his career high, as the Lakers shot 36.5%. Tim Duncan had 23 points for the Spurs, who shot 37.1% and will probably finish second in the West.
That means the Lakers are currently looking at a best-of-seven series against Oklahoma City in the first round.
For now, though, Bryant's message meant a lot.
"There's not too many guys that could do that," Blake said. "When I had surgery, there was no way I was going to send a video, right? But it's nice to know that the best player in the world still believes in you when he's out. It gives you confidence."
Bryant was immobilized at home Sunday but not far from the action, contacting Lakers trainer Gary Vitti at halftime.
"He texted Gary, 'I want to talk to Pau,' and Gary handed me the phone and I talked to him for a quick second," Gasol said.
Bryant's advice? "Just stay aggressive and continue to look at the rim and take the shots when they're there," Gasol said.
Gasol didn't play well, making only three of 17 shots and scoring seven points, but the Lakers were the aggressors in the end.
Antawn Jamison made three momentum-swinging three-pointers early in the fourth quarter. Jodie Meeks added two of his own behind the arc near the midpoint of the quarter.
And, yes, that was Darius Morris leading a fastbreak, passing to Metta World Peace for a layup and an 82-73 lead with 5:03 to play.
The Lakers' first game without Bryant wasn't calamitous after all.
"I have no doubt in my mind. If I kick the ball out, those guys are going to make shots," Howard said. "We're going to use that late in [games of] the playoffs. Throw it in the post, throw it out — [they'll] hit shots."
Wait a sec. Playoff games? First the Lakers have to get there. Sunday was a solid step, though.
Meanwhile, the Spurs (58-22) lost for the sixth time in their last 11 games and didn't play with their usual ferocity. Tony Parker played only three minutes in the fourth quarter and made one of 10 shots in the game. He had as many turnovers (four) as points.
Steve Nash missed a seventh consecutive game because of hip and hamstring soreness but Blake more than held his own, making eight of 16 shots, four of eight from three-point range, and handing out four assists.
Bryant had one more message for a teammate after the game, posting on Twitter that Howard "was a beast" Sunday and had stopped by the hospital twice Saturday to "check on big bro . . . that's luv."
The Lakers were a feel-good story Sunday.