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Kobe Bryant scores 40, Lakers hold off Blazers

Bryant guarantees that Lakers will make the playoffs, then pours in 40 points in an efficient effort.

February 22, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers lined up alongside Kobe Bryant, or behind him, or something, when asked if they agreed with his optimistic belief they would make the playoffs.

They then backed it up with a gritty 111-107 victory Friday over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.

That's two in a row for the Lakers, reason enough to throw a victory parade in a season to dismember.

Bryant was the first to back up his boast that the Lakers would play past April 17, scoring 40 points on impressive 15-for-23 shooting.

It was enough to counteract one of Steve Nash's worst shooting games (four points, two-for-11 accuracy) and some defensive wobbles.

Guarantees are guarantees, aren't they? Bryant's teammates fell in line with his assertion.

"I'm not going to sit up here and say, 'No, we're not going to make it,'" Dwight Howard said beforehand. "We've got to have faith. I believe that we're going to turn this around and we're going to be great."

It wasn't quite as strong as Bryant's proclamation — "It's not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will." — but there was enough conviction on the court to overcome a four-point deficit in the final minutes. The Lakers (27-29) are 31/2 games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Not one to need added incentive, Bryant picked some up when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said the Lakers should consider waiving him during the off-season to save at least $30.5 million in luxury taxes.

"He would love that," Bryant said.

The Lakers have been awful in Portland (4-17 there since 2002) but the reverse against the Trail Blazers at Staples Center, winning 14 of their last 16 against them.

And yet, Portland (25-30) was there almost until the end, the Lakers able to relax only after Bryant made two free throws with 8.9 seconds left, providing a four-point edge. J.J. Hickson had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Portland, which lost its seventh consecutive game.

Nash was one for 10 until he made a seven-foot fadeaway with 1:44 left. He also missed a technical free throw with 2:36 to play.

"Playoff teams always find a way to win when they don't have their 'A' game," Nash said.

Howard had 19 points and 16 rebounds despite aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder after Victor Claver fouled him late in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game, but another Lakers big man was injured as well — Earl Clark sustained a sprained left pinkie while pursuing a rebound late in the game. He did not return but was not expected to miss any time.

So the Lakers move onward, to the road, which has not been kind to them. They play Sunday at Dallas and Monday at Denver, two more chances to improve a ghastly 9-18 road record.

Guarantees? Playoffs? Sure. Why not? Nash was slightly less vocal about it, though he also supported Bryant's belief.

"That's great," Nash said. "You love it when your best player has that confidence and that challenge. He's put it out there for us to go get now."

Would Nash guarantee a playoff appearance as well?

"Yeah, I mean, whatever, I guarantee it," he said with a shrug. "What does it mean? Everyone guarantees something at some stage and then everyone forgets."

Coach Mike D'Antoni was less verbal than that.

"I'm not a guarantee kind of guy but I'll let [Bryant] do the talking since he's got to do the walking," he said.

Bryant did it Friday. There's a lot of basketball left to play.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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