- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- It was easy to summon the kind of emotion and passion that would have made their late, great owner Dr. Jerry Buss proud and get a win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
But Friday night it was back to the reality of a season where nothing has come easy, as the Lakers needed all of Kobe Bryant's 40 points to eke out a close 111-107 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
Bryant hit 15 of his 23 shots and all nine of his free throws to lead the Lakers to their second straight win. Dwight Howard added 19 points and 16 rebounds, even though he re-injured his right shoulder near the end of the first half.
How it happened: Once again the Lakers let a struggling young team gain confidence and shoot the lights out in the first half (51 percent).
But Bryant kept them in it with 18 points in the third quarter, and the Lakers finally pulled it out late in the fourth with several key defensive stands and four clutch free throws by Bryant over the final 12.9 seconds to preserve the win.
What it means: The Lakers have known for a while now they need to win about 70 percent of their remaining 27 games. There is very little room for error anymore. Games like this one -- against a Trail Blazer team they'd finally passed in the Western Conference standings -- are essentially must-wins if the Lakers have any hope of getting into the playoffs.
Hits: Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni revealed before Friday's game that Kobe Bryant has been dealing with a shoulder injury and said it may have been the cause of his 1-for-35 shooting on 3-pointers coming into the game.
Bryant might be in pain, but it didn't show in his performance Friday. He scored 29 of his game-high 40 points in the second half, keeping the Lakers in the game just when it seemed as if the Blazers might steal this one.
Misses: Steve Nash had a terrible shooting night, missing nine of his first 10 shots, and finishing with just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. He even missed a technical foul shot late in the fourth quarter. You know it's bad when Steve Nash is missing free throws.
What's next: The Lakers head to Dallas for an early game on Sunday (10 a.m.), when Bryant can share his thoughts -- or respond as he sees fit on the court -- to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after his comments Friday that the team should consider whether to amnesty the final year and $30 million on his contract.
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne