Los Angeles: Kobe Bryant scored 29 of his 40 points in the second half on Friday as the Los Angeles Lakers capped an emotional week with a much-needed 111-107 NBA victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bryant added seven rebounds and two steals for the Lakers, who have won seven of their last 10 games and stand 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated published this week, Bryant said he was certain the Lakers would make the playoffs.
“It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs,” he was quoted as saying. “We will.”
The team, which has had more than its share of dysfunctional moments this season, has been through an emotional five days since the death on Monday of 80-year-old owner Jerry Buss.
Buss was remembered at the first Lakers game following his death, a 113-99 win over Boston on Wednesday, while at a memorial service on Thursday Bryant challenged his teammates to live up to Buss’s standards of excellence.
“We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season,” he said. “We are playing for a great man, Dr Jerry Buss.”
Playing hours after Buss was buried on Friday, the Lakers remained mindful of his legacy, Bryant said.
“I think we understand what’s at stake and what this franchise stands for,” Bryant said. “That gives you an extra gear.”
Dwight Howard added 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers and Antawn Jamison chipped in 16 points.
JJ Hickson scored with 22 points and 11 rebounds for the slumping Blazers, who have now lost seven in a row to slip 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers.