Bryant struggles and still leads Lakers over Mavs


DALLAS – Kobe Bryant went through an array of emotions, grimacing in pain and initially thinking his left ankle might be hurt bad enough to end his season. Then he realized things would be all right and even got back in the game.

Bryant now has a sore ankle and is still struggling with his shot, but was able to do plenty to help the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 96-91 on Saturday night in matchup of Western Conference powers — and a potential playoff preview.

"I thought I was done, like done. I was praying that when I stood up, my foot was lined up straight," Bryant said. "I thought I dislocated it."

Late in the third quarter, Bryant came down awkwardly after having a shot blocked by Shawn Marion. While Jason Kidd converted the turnover into a layup that got Dallas within 65-63, Bryant remained on the floor in obvious pain.

When Bryant got up, he limped a few steps and called timeout. He went to the bench for a minute, then to the locker room before coming back out early in the fourth quarter and returning to the game with about 6 minutes left.

"I just walked around, let it settle in, then went back out. We were all pretty scared because it looked horrible and felt worse," Bryant said. "When I stood up, I was happy it was still lined up. I walked around, my strength felt good. It was a little sore. But I had to stop being a chump, suck it up and go out and play."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he wasn't sure if Bryant would be able to play Monday night at home against Orlando.

The Lakers responded with eight consecutive points after Bryant went out, including two 3-pointers by Steve Blake, to stretch the lead to 73-63.

Bryant scored 16 points while making only 6 of 20 shots, yet scored six points and assisted on the other basket in a 9-0 spurt late in the second quarter that snapped a tie and put the Lakers ahead to stay.

The Mavericks (47-19) are only a half-game ahead of Los Angeles (47-20) for second place in the Western Conference. But if the Lakers win the Pacific Division, as expected, they would get the higher seed in the playoffs if the two teams finish the regular season with the same record. They have split their first two games and play again March 31 in Los Angeles.

"It's a tough loss because it's a game that obviously had meaning," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "I'm disappointed with the outcome, but not the effort."

Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 18 points and Ron Artest 12.

Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion had 25 points apiece for Dallas while both posting double-doubles. Marion had 12 rebounds and Nowitzki grabbed 10.

Dallas, which trails San Antonio by seven games in the Southwest Division, was within 89-85 after Nowitzki made two free throws with 2 minutes left. After Gasol missed for the Lakers, Nowitzki was in position to take a short jumper but instead threw the ball inside and out of bounds.

Bryant had two misses after that, one that Artest put back in and another that led to a fast-break slam by Marion with 25 seconds left that got Dallas within 91-89.

Gasol was immediately fouled after that and made the second free throw. Kidd missed an inside shot with 11 seconds left and Bynum made two free throws.

"We know that we've had success against this team, and they evened it up," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "We're disappointed with the outcome."

Los Angeles was coming off a loss Thursday night in Miami where Bryant made his first four shots, then was 4 for 17 the rest of the way. Bryant returned to the court after the game had ended, taking hundreds of shots over more than an hour and finishing after midnight.

Bryant made only one of his first five shots Saturday before his basket with 4:34 left in the first half that snapped a 37-all tie. Corey Brewer then missed a 3-pointer and fouled Bryant, who made two free throws and then had two steals during a stretch when the Mavs had turnovers on four consecutive possessions.

After making a tough turnaround jumper, Bryant went down the court smiling and holding his arms out wide in disbelief that a foul wasn't called on the play against Rodrigue Beaubois.

Bryant was then whistled for a foul, but stole the ball from Beaubois and had the assist on Artest's 3-pointer that made it 46-37.

"It was a statement for us. It was a big game," Bryant said. "We talked before the game that this is a team that can beat us in the postseason. This team is a serious contender and we approached it like that."

NOTES: Mavericks G Peja Stojakovic missed his third consecutive game with a stiff neck. ... A crowd of 20,619 made up the largest ever for a Mavericks regular-season game at the American Airlines Center. ... A fan wearing a Nowitzki jersey made a half-court shot to win an 82-inch HD television during a timeout in the third quarter. After a first attempt hit off the back rim, he was given one more chance and swished the shot. ..


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