Kobe Bryant breaks to the hoop past defender Meyers Leonard during the first… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Lakers 111 - Blazers 107 (end of regulation)
The Lakers got a game they absolutely needed, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 111-107.
Kobe Bryant scored 40 points on 15-23 shooting, hitting four clutch free throws down the stretch, but it was a Steve Nash fadeaway with 1:44 left in the game that was the difference.
Nash struggled all night, hitting just 2-11 from the field -- missing his only free throw -- but the last two of his four points gave the Lakers a lead they never relinquished.
Dwight Howard battled through 38 minutes, despite re-aggravating his shoulder in the first half. Howard finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
The Lakers shot 47.1% from the field, getting 16 points from Antawn Jamison, 11 points apiece from Metta World Peace and Earl Clark, and 10 from Jodie Meeks.
The Blazers were led by Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson with 22 each. Damian Lillard scored 19 but shot just 9-22 from the field.
All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 on 19 shots, missing a crucial fadeaway with 15.9 seconds left to tie at 107.
The Blazers shot 48.9% from the field, getting a boost from Wesley Matthews who was playing with an ankle injury. Matthews hit 4-7 from three-point range, scoring 15 points.
The Lakers improve to 27-29, taking a 2-1 series lead over the Blazers (25-30).
The two teams, both fighting for ninth place -- with hopes of climbing into the top eight -- will play one last time this season in Portland.
Blazers 82 - Lakers 80 (end of third quarter)
For a moment, early in the third quarter, it looked like the game might slip away from the Lakers.
Dwight Howard was clearly laboring with his shoulder. The Lakers turned the ball over continuously -- Portland looked too athletic, building a seven-point lead.
Gradually the Lakers worked their way back after LaMarcus Aldridge picked up his fourth foul with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third.
Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 29 points, scoring 18 in the period. Antawn Jamison helped with 16 off the bench as the Lakers shot 43.9% from the field.
The Blazers were led by Nicolas Batum with 20, shooting 48.6% as a team.
With Metta World Peace in foul trouble, Coach Mike D'Antoni went small with Steve Blake alongside Steve Nash, moving Bryant to small forward.
Blake didn't score but he helped defensively on Damian Lillard, who had 13.
Nash shot just 1-9 from the field in 28 minutes.
Blazers 55 - Lakers 53 (halftime)
The Lakers pulled ahead by as many as five but the Blazers closed the second quarter well to take a two-point lead.
J.J. Hickson hit his first six shots of the game, scoring 16 points on 8-10 shooting. The Blazers shot 51.1% from the field but had nine turnovers.
The Lakers were led by an energetic Dwight Howard, scoring 15 points. Howard hit half of 10 free throw attempts, drawing three-straight fouls from Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard over an eight-second span.
Howard seemed to re-aggravate his injured shoulder (labrum), getting fouled by Victor Claver, but stayed in the game.
Kobe Bryant scored 11, matched by Antawn Jamison off the bench. Steve Nash missed five of six shots, but had five assists as the Lakers shot 42.2% from the field.
Both teams hit four of nine three-point attempts.
Lakers 30 - Blazers 28 (end of first quarter)
After a quarter of basketball, the Lakers finished ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers by two points 30-28.
Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 11 points on 5-9 shooting. The Lakers shot 47.8% from the field as a team including 3-6 from three-point range.
The Blazers got 10 points from J.J. Hickson on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field.
Earl Clark did his best to battle All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, both players scoring five points - Aldridge hitting 2-7 from the field.
Portland shot 54.5% from the field with five turnovers. The Lakers had four early turnovers as well.
The Lakers (26-29) hope to put together back-to-back wins and stay ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) in the chase for the playoffs when the two teams meet at Staples Center tonight.
L.A. is coming off an emotional win over the Boston Celtics, 113-99, on Wednesday in the Lakers' first game on the court following the passing of Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
Steve Nash and Dwight Howard seemed to find a rythmn against the Celtics as the center went for 24 points and 12 rebounds. Nash had 14 points with seven assists.
Kobe Bryant stayed productive as a facilitator and a scorer with 16 points and seven assists.
The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, are looking to end a six-game losing streak that has dropped the team out of playoff position as the second half of the season gets underway.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge leads the Trail Blazers in scoring, averaging 21 points per game with 1.2 blocks.
Portland also features one of the NBA's hottest rookies, guard Damian Lillard, who is averaging 18.4 points and 6.5 assists per game.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.
Times staff writer Matt Wilhalme contributed to this post.