Kobe Bryant, Lakers don’t wilt in hard-earned win over Kings


SACRAMENTO -- It almost had to happen this way.

The cowbells were long gone and Phil Jackson hadn’t zinged the local folks up here in years, but the Lakers reached way back into their rivalry with the Sacramento Kings and rode away with a 103-98 victory Saturday.

It might have been the last time they ever meet here, the Kings possibly ticketed for Seattle, and if so, the Lakers grabbed the final edge again.

Kobe Bryant played almost all 48 minutes, sitting out only 23 seconds at the end of the third quarter. Dwight Howard was great just about everywhere, his free-throw misses quickly forgotten. Steve Blake filled in admirably for ailing Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol kept the ball moving with 10 assists.

Bryant played through a bone spur in his left foot that forced him to crutches after Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to will your way through it, man,” Bryant said. “Now is not the time to sit back. You’ve got to take this challenge head-on.”

A touch of history also took place: Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after drilling a 19-footer with 7:54 left in the second quarter.

He didn’t shoot well (five for 18) but finished with 19 points Saturday and moved to 31,434 in his career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan are the only three ahead of him.

“What a journey,” Bryant said of passing Chamberlain. “It’s been a very, very long journey. I’m certainly extremely appreciative of all the support from the Laker faithful and Laker nation.”

If the Lakers felt pushed in the standings, their instincts were dead-on accurate on a night when Utah and Dallas also won.

The Lakers (38-36) remained tied with Utah for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, though the Jazz already has clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker, pushing the Lakers technically down to ninth.

It could be worse. Looked that way when the Lakers unveiled their All-Star game defense in the first quarter, surrendering 37 points as the Kings shot 71.4%.

Nash left less than two minutes into the game after aggravating a strained right hamstring on a pass to Gasol. Blake, however, made five three-pointers and had 15 points.

Howard was tough down low with 24 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Still, it came down to the final possessions at Sleep Train Arena.

Cue up the Robert Horry playoff buzzer-beaters against the Kings? Sure, why not?

This time, DeMarcus Cousins launched a three-point attempt that was askew with 13.9 seconds left. Bryant made two free throws at the other end and that was that.

The Lakers had lost their previous three games in Sacramento by a surprisingly one-sided average of 14 points. That they trailed by 12 in the first quarter Saturday surprised no one.

But the Lakers were patient, racking up 28 assists and only seven turnovers. Bryant had 14 assists and one turnover. It was the first time two Lakers recorded at least 10 assists in a game since Bryant and Luke Walton did it in an overtime loss to Washington in 2006.