Kobe Bryant gets 40 but gets hurt too in Lakers’ narrow win

Phil Jackson knew this would happen, sensed it in a travel-weary team that completed back-to-back road victories over New Jersey and Detroit.

The carry-over continued Tuesday at Staples Center.

The Lakers were tired, and it showed. They were bleary-eyed, and it was obvious, but they held off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-108, the fifth consecutive victory for the team with the NBA’s best record (23-4).

Kobe Bryant had 40 points and provided a minute-long scare for Lakers fans when he stayed seated on the court, holding his left knee after an awkward landing on a layup attempt with 5:08 to play.

Bryant’s ankle appeared to buckle and his knee bent briefly at an unusual angle. After a Lakers timeout, Bryant, who was fouled on the play, made two free throws for a 100-91 lead. He stayed in the game until the final horn.

“We’re fortunate that he didn’t do something disastrous,” Jackson said. “I had shades of Karl Malone,” the former Lakers forward who missed part of the 2003-04 season because of a knee injury.

For now, the Lakers are saying Bryant “tweaked” his knee, with further evaluation coming today, if necessary.

Not that it’s surprising any longer, but the Lakers couldn’t hold onto a lead, and dodged overtime only when Russell Westbrook’s three-point attempt rimmed out with 2.9 seconds left to play.

Pau Gasol had 15 points and 11 rebounds, his eighth straight double-double, but the Lakers were lacking a lot in this one.

Jackson tried to avoid a letdown by scheduling practice the day after the team returned from its lengthy foray. It didn’t exactly work.

The Lakers was so bad in the first half that Ron Artest missed a layup under the basket . . . flat-footed . . . with nobody near him.

Andrew Bynum had another strange game after battling sinus issues that, coupled with his asthma, decreased his energy level on the Lakers’ trip.

“We’re going to have a better Andrew physically,” Jackson predicted before the game.

Not in the first half. Bynum missed all five of his shots and the Lakers trailed, 61-54. He finished with 11 points on three-for-nine shooting. He had seven rebounds.

“It wasn’t Andrew’s night,” Jackson said. “Let’s just say it that way.”

Meanwhile, Bryant continued to put up numbers despite still trying to find the perfect device for his injured right index finger. The problem isn’t the splint itself, made up of equal parts hard and pliable plastic, but the tape surrounding the device, some of the adhesive being too slippery.

Bryant’s shooting isn’t affected, but his ball-handling hasn’t been as sharp, though he did have six assists Tuesday.

Most of the postgame talk surrounded his knee, however.

“I was very concerned,” Bryant said. “I had to do my MCL check, ACL check. Everything was intact so I was good to go. I’m Bruce Willis, man. I’m fine.”

The Lakers recovered despite 21 points and 13 assists by Westbrook. Kevin Durant had 30 points before fouling out with 1:31 to play.

Next up is Cleveland on Christmas Day.

LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal will be in town. It’ll be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference against the best in the West.

If the Lakers can’t get the sleep out of their eyes by then, well, it won’t be a happy holiday for them.

Jackson is already setting the table. “We want to win out the month of December,” he said. “We’d really like to do that. That’s a tough chore, we have two sets of back-to-backs, but that’s really what our goal is.”