PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) —Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 47 points and the Los Angeles Lakers pulled closer to a playoff berth with a 113-106 victory over the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
The Lakers moved a game up on the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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.
The Lakers finish the season off with three games at home, all against playoff-bound teams: 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.
The deck was stacked from the start against the Blazers, who started four rookies for the first time in the team’s history.
Portland was without starters Wesley Matthews (ankle), J.J. Hickson (back) and Nicolas Batum (right shoulder). As a result, two-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge was the only veteran starting with rookie forward Victor Claver, guards Lillard and Will Barton, and center Meyers Leonard.
Matthews injured his right ankle in Portland’s 96-91 loss to Dallas on Sunday, while Batum was missing his fourth straight game with a sore shoulder. Hickson says he’s been dealing with a painful lower back for the past several games.
But the rookies got off to an astonishingly fast start, going up 17-8 on Lillard’s fadeaway jumper. Lillard banked in a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 22-12 and the Blazers made eight of their first nine shots from the field.
He hit another 3 to make it 35-25 and the Blazers went on to lead 41-33 at the end of the first, their most points in the opening quarter this season.
The Lakers chipped away at the lead and pulled within 48-43 on former Blazer Steve Blake’s 3-pointer. Bryant’s long jumper on the baseline closed Los Angeles to 50-48.
The Blazers led 69-61 at the break, but the Lakers opened the second half with a 10-0 run capped by Howard’s hook shot to pull ahead 71-69, their first lead of the game. Howard’s layup extended the lead to 78-71.
The Blazers were hurt when Claver rolled his ankle late in the third quarter and retreated to the locker room, but they stayed on the Lakers’ heels, coming within 86-85 on Eric Maynor’s running jumper and pulling in front on Luke Babbit’s 3 pointer.
Maynor’s fadeaway made it 95-90 for the Blazers.
Lillard was awarded the NBA’s Community Assist award for March because of his anti-bullying campaign. He is the fourth rookie to win the honor, and first since Atlanta’s Al Horford in 2008. More than 5,000 fans have signed a pledge to help end bullying as part of Lillard’s “Respect” program. … Lillard became second Portland rookie to go over 500 assists. Kelvin Ransey had 555 in the 1980-81 season. … The Blazers are 5-10 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, and have yet to go 2-0 in a set of back-to-backs. … The Blazers had won three straight and 12 of their last 14 against the Lakers at the Rose Garden.
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