Playoff hopes still alive
PORTLAND – Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 47 points and carried the Los Angeles Lakers closer to a playoff berth with a 113-106 victory over the short-handed but tenacious Portland Trail Blazers last night at the Rose Garden.
The Lakers moved a full game up on the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We’ve got no breathing room at all,” Bryant said. “I’m still on edge. We’ve got to win three more games and we’re in.”
Portland, missing the playoffs for the second straight season, has lost nine straight, the most since an 11-game skid in the 2005-06 season. Rookie Damian Lillard led the Blazers with a career-high 38 points.
Pau Gasol had 23 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, while Dwight Howard added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers. Bryant was 18 of 18 from the free throw line and played the entire game, determined to pull out a win after trailing early.
“What he (Bryant) is doing is phenomenal. He’s determined to get us in the playoffs,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s what happens when you open your mouth and guarantee that we’ll get in the playoffs.”
Bryant vowed in late February that his team would make it to the postseason. The Lakers wrap up the regular season at home with games against playoff-bound Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
Gasol knotted the game at 96 with a layup and a jumper with 7:09 left. After Lillard’s 15-footer, Gasol added another jumper to tie it again. His layup gave the Lakers a 102-100 edge before Bryant hit a pair of free throws and added a 23-foot jump shot with 4:09 left to make it 106-100.
Howard’s alley-oop dunk from Gasol with 53 seconds left made it 110-104 and all but sealed it.
For much of the game, it seemed like Bryant the veteran against Lillard the upstart rookie.
“He’s spectacular … really fantastic,” Bryant said of the Blazers’ five-time rookie of the month. “A lot of players get hot, but he’s got the moves, patience, intelligence, the balance on his jumpers. He’s the real deal.”
Other scores: Hawks 124, 76ers 101; Heat 103, Wizards 98; Bucks 103, Magic 113, Pistons 111, Cavaliers 104; Nets 101, Celtics 93; Suns 102, Mavericks 91; Hornets 110, Kings 121; Spurs 86, Nuggets 96; Timberwolves 95; Clippers 111.