<
>

Bryant two rebounds short of triple-double

2/18/2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant is finally getting healthy, and
it's showing on the court with one notable exception -- at the foul
line.

Bryant had 31 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 10
assists Tuesday night to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to an 89-86
victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I would say so," Bryant replied when asked if this was one of
his best all-around games of the season. "I played pretty well
tonight."

It was just Bryant's fifth game including the All-Star game
since he sprained his right shoulder Jan. 12.

He missed six games after that, played in two and then missed
seven more after cutting his right index finger Jan. 29.

Bryant said he feels better physically than he has in quite some
time.

"My legs feel pretty good," he said. "If my legs can carry
me, the rest will follow."

Bryant scored his team's last five points including a
tiebreaking left-handed layup with 31.8 seconds remaining and a
foul shot with seven seconds left.

Normally an excellent free throw shooter, he made only 5-of-9
and missed one when given an opportunity at a three-point play on
his tiebreaking layup and another that could have given the Lakers
a four-point lead near the end.

The Blazers thus had a chance to tie the game in the final
seconds, but Damon Stoudamire missed a 3-pointer and Horace Grant
got the rebound as time expired.

Bryant said his shoulder still bothers him a bit, locking up
when he shoots free throws.

"It'll come around, though," he said. "It just takes some
time."

After Bryant's layup gave the Lakers an 88-86 lead, Shareef
Abdur-Rahim missed a jumper with about 12 seconds left that could
have tied it. Shaquille O'Neal got the rebound and quickly fed the
ball to Bryant, whose free throw completed the scoring.

"We had chances to make plays, but sometimes it just comes down
to who makes the last play," Abdur-Rahim said.

O'Neal had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Gary Payton scored 15
for the Lakers -- all in the second half.

"That was quite a finish to a game that seemed to be caught in
post All-Star game malaise," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Ruben Patterson scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter
to lead the Blazers, who lost their third straight game after
winning seven of eight.

Abdur-Rahim, playing his second game for Portland, added 16
points -- eight in the final period. Derek Anderson scored 15 points
and Stoudamire had 14 points, six rebounds and 12 assists.

The Lakers barely won despite outrebounding the Blazers 48-34.

Patterson scored 11 straight points for Portland to finish the
third quarter and start the fourth, triggering a 16-4 run that gave
the Blazers a 76-74 lead.

Neither team led by more than three points after that.

Payton scored five straight points to give the Lakers a
two-point lead, but Abdur-Rahim's jumper with 2:42 remaining tied
it at 84.

Bryant and Stoudamire then exchanged baskets to tie it again,
setting the stage for Bryant's last-minute heroics.

Anderson missed a wide-open 3-pointer before Bryant's
game-winner.

"It was my best look of the night," Anderson said. "I just
hesitated because I saw Shaq and I thought about putting it on the
floor, then I thought about the shot clock. I was doing too much
thinking and not preparing myself to shoot it. You can't get a
better look than that."

The Lakers led 43-40 at halftime and 70-62 entering the fourth
quarter.

O'Neal, MVP of Sunday's All-Star game at Staples Center, picked
up where he left off with 12 points and six rebounds in the first
quarter as the Lakers took a 25-24 lead.

Game notes
The game was the first at home for the Lakers since Jan. 30
and the first of only three home games in February. They played
their final seven games before the All-Star break on the road,
winning four, and 10 of their next 15 are away. ... Abdur-Rahim,
acquired from Atlanta last week, rejoined the Blazers late Monday.
He missed practice earlier in the day because his paternal
grandmother died in Atlanta. Abdur-Rahim still hasn't practiced
with his new team. ... Stoudamire had two 3-pointers and needs one
to tie Clyde Drexler for third place on the Blazers' all-time list.
... Jackson said he didn't expect the team to make any trades
before Thursday's deadline. "We feel like we've got the right
pieces in place," he said. ... Patterson made his first 3-pointer
of the season with one second left in the first quarter. He missed
his previous six attempts.