LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, Dwight Howard had 19 points and 16 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers capped a trying week with a gritty 111-107 victory over the slumping Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Hours after longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss was buried, and a day after a moving memorial service punctuated by eulogies from Bryant and other franchise greats, the team got back to basketball with a much-needed victory at Staples Center.
Bryant scored 11 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes and the Lakers won for the seventh time in 10 games. They remained ninth in the Western Conference playoff race, 3 1/2 games behind Houston for the final spot with 26 remaining. Portland trails Los Angeles by 1 1/2 games.
Howard, looking for his sixth rebounding title in seven seasons, came in averaging an NBA-best and career-high 11.8 boards per game. The Lakers are 19-12 when he gets double digits in rebounds, and 11 of those losses have come on nights when he grabbed 14 or more. They wasted 26 boards in a home loss to Denver on Jan. 6, and 20 in a Dec. 11 loss at Cleveland.
Antawn Jamison scored 16 points off the bench, helping to hand Portland its season-worst seventh straight loss. The Trail Blazers have lost five straight road games and 10 of their last 11 away from the Rose Garden.
J.J. Hickson had 22 points and 11 rebounds for Portland, and Nicolas Batum also scored 22. Two-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 15 points in 34 foul-plagued minutes after picking up his fifth personal with 8 minutes remaining.
Damian Lillard added 19 points. All of Portland’s starters scored in double figures, while the bench produced just 14 points.
Portland led 82-80 after three quarters, and the lead changed hands five times before Steve Nash’s layup gave the Lakers a 107-105 lead with 1:44 to play. Bryant fumbled the ball out of bounds on the Lakers’ next possession, but the Blazers couldn’t capitalize and Bryant closed it out with four free throws in the final 13 seconds.
Hickson, who came in fifth in the NBA with a 56.5 field goal percentage, shot 8 for 10 in the first half and had 16 points — including a 20-footer with 2.6 seconds on the clock to give the Blazers a 55-53 lead at the break.
Howard had 15 points and eight rebounds in the first half.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace played almost 9 1/2 minutes before taking his first shot, an airball on a 3-point attempt. But his next shot was a successful 3 that gave Los Angeles a 37-32 lead with 8:46 left in the second quarter.
Meyers Leonard, the Blazers’ 7-foot-1 backup center, picked up three fouls in his first 5 1/2 minutes on the floor and finished with four points in 13 minutes.
NOTES: The Lakers (27-29) haven’t been under .500 this deep into a season since 1993-94, when they were 21-35 after 56 games and finished 33-49. That was the first of only two times that the team didn’t make the playoffs during Buss’ term as owner, which began in 1979-80. … The Lakers are 5-13 when Bryant commits five or more turnovers. … Bryant hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter that snapped his string of 16 consecutive misses from behind the arc. He is only 2 for 39 since Jan. 20, when he misfired on his last two attempts. … Hickson was 11 for 15 from the field, extending his club-record streak to 18 consecutive games of shooting 50 percent or better. … No Lakers player scored 30 or more points in the team’s previous 17 games since Jan. 15, when Bryant and Howard each had 31 in a 104-88 home win against Milwaukee. The only time that Bryant sat out the fourth quarter during that stretch was Feb. 7 at Boston, when he had 27 in a 116-95 loss. … The Blazers haven’t lost more than seven straight games in the same season since 2005-06, when they dropped their final eight and 19 of their last 20. They begin a four-game homestand Sunday against the Celtics, who have beaten Portland six straight times and won 13 of the past 14 meetings. … The Blazers have lost six straight road games against the Lakers, and are 5-20 against them at Staples Center since the arena opened in 1999-00.