Bryant spurs Lakers to 7th in row
SAN ANTONIO — Kobe Bryant kept his shooting hand raised high, smiling while backpedaling to halfcourt after burying the San Antonio Spurs.
A seventh straight win for the Los Angeles Lakers looked that easy.
Bryant scored 24 points and hit a pair of backbreaking 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, helping the Lakers preserve their second-longest winning streak of the season with a 92-83 victory last night.
"It was a playoff-type of atmosphere," Bryant said. "We were down in the first half. We had to battle back. It was a good win for us to start this road trip."
He means a five-game road trip, the longest left for the Lakers before the playoffs. With just 11 games remaining, the West-leading Lakers have a six-game cushion over Dallas.
The Spurs, meanwhile, are seventh in the West, a half-game ahead of Portland.
San Antonio might have blown a chance to get more breathing room.
Manu Ginobili scored 24 points and George Hill had 21, but the Spurs got little help from anyone else. San Antonio had no other scorers in double figures, and got a dreadful 2-of-11 night from Tim Duncan, who finished with six points and 12 rebounds.
The Spurs led for much of the game, but after Bryant took over in the fourth, San Antonio wilted late against the best in the West. And the worst isn't behind the Spurs: Next up is LeBron James and East-leading Cleveland tomorrow night.
"You always want to beat the best teams, but at this point in the season, I just want to beat the team in front of me," Ginobili said. "If it's the worst or the best, we just need to win."
Lamar Odom had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Ron Artest scored 16 points. Paul Gasol had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"I think we understand that we're at the point of the year where we're really tuned in and focused about what we have to do out there," Gasol said. "Defensively, in that good mindset so it carries on to the offensive end."
BOBCATS 108, TIMBERWOLVES 95
Stephen Jackson shook off a sore hand and busted out of his shooting slump with 37 points, helping host Charlotte move into sixth place in the Eastern Conference while handing Minnesota its 14th straight loss,
PACERS 99, WIZARDS 82
Danny Granger scored 31 points and Andray Blatche, who got the start a night after he was benched following a spat with coach Flip Saunders, had 21 points as host Indiana extended Washington's losing streak to a franchise record-tying 13 games.
HAWKS 86, MAGIC 84
Josh Smith swooped in to slam through Joe Johnson's missed shot just ahead of the buzzer as host Atlanta beat Orlando for the first time in three meetings this season and clinched a third straight trip to the playoffs.
NETS 93, KINGS 79
Brook Lopez had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Devin Harris added 24 points and host New Jersey took the lead for good late in the second quarter to beat Sacramento and snap an eight-game losing streak and a franchise-record, 14-game skid at home.
CELTICS 113, NUGGETS 99
Paul Pierce scored 27 points, Kevin Garnett had 20 and host Boston opened a 21-point lead in the third quarter that never dipped below seven the rest of the way in beating Denver to clinch a playoff berth.
JAZZ 113, RAPTORS 87
Deron Williams had 18 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds, and Carlos Boozer added 18 points and 11 rebounds, leading visiting Utah to a rout of Toronto for its third straight victory.
THUNDER 122, ROCKETS 104
Kevin Durant scored 25 points and James Harden, who missed six games with a hamstring injury, added 23 points as host Oklahoma City took a 74-57 halftime lead and never looked back in beating Houston for the first time in their last 13 meetings.
76ERS 101, BUCKS 86
Rookie Jrue Holiday had 15 points and seven assists, Samuel Dalembert had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Philadelphia trailed only once at 3-0 before rolling to a victory that snapped Milwaukee's longest home winning streak in six years at eight games.
CAVALIERS 105, HORNETS 92
LeBron James scored an efficient 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting to go with nine assists, and Anderson Varejao's dunk broke a 12-all tie and visiting Cleveland never trailed again in defeating New Orleans for its eighth straight victory.
WARRIORS 128, GRIZZLIES 110
Stephen Curry had 30 points and 11 assists, Reggie Williams scored 23 points, and host Golden State dropped ninth-place Memphis 4 1/2 games behind No. 8 Portland in the Western Conference with 10 games remaining.
Nuggets: Denver might not have coach George Karl back on the sideline until the playoffs begin next month.
Karl is undergoing treatment for throat and neck cancer and, according to a blog by his girlfriend, he was hospitalized this week with blood clots in his lungs and a leg. Adrian Dantley has served as acting head coach for eight games since Karl announced just after the All-Star break that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Dantley is 5-3 in those games.