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Kobe's 51 not enough as Suns defeat Lakers

PHOENIX (AP) -- Kobe Bryant can score all the points he wants as
far as the Phoenix Suns are concerned, as long as they come away
with the victory.

Bryant's 51 points weren't enough to keep the Suns from beating
the Los Angeles Lakers for the seventh time in a row, 107-96, on
Friday night in a matchup of potential first-round playoff
opponents.

Steve Nash had 25 points and eight assists but was on the bench
when the Suns pulled away with an 18-4 run to start the fourth
quarter after Los Angeles had closed to within one.

The Suns pulled six games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles
Clippers in the Pacific Division with seven to play. The Lakers,
meanwhile, dropped into a tie with Sacramento for the No. 7 spot in
the Western Conference.

Bryant, who made 19-of-33 shots, broke the U.S. Airways Center
record of 50 held by Amare Stoudemire and Cliff Robinson. The
former America West Arena opened in 1992.

"You feel like if he's taking all those shots, the other guys
aren't really scoring," Nash said. "We don't feel like if he has
a huge night, that we can't win, that's for sure."

Only two players have scored more against the Suns -- Wilt
Chamberlain with 66 for the Lakers on Feb. 9, 1969, and Michael
Jordan with 53 for Chicago on Jan. 21, 1989.

"Oh yeah?" Bryant said. "That's pretty good company --
excellent company."

Raja Bell, the Suns' best perimeter defender, is obviously no
friend of Bryant. The two didn't shake hands before the game and
never acknowledge each other, let alone speak.

"If I can keep him preoccupied with trying to beat me 1-on-1,
then there are four other guys out there who aren't getting
shots," Bell said. "That plays into our hands because we're going
to get points. So if he gets 50 and the rest of the guys don't get
enough to beat us, I did my job."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bryant was motivated after a
lackluster game against Bell the last time in Phoenix.

"At some level, it's remarkable," Jackson said of Bryant's 93
points on consecutive nights. "At another level, it limits us, it
hackles us a little bit because other players don't get in the
flow, and they didn't get in the flow tonight."

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said Bell "did a heck of a job" on
Bryant, "but that's just how good Kobe is."

Bryant, though, refused to say anything about Bell.

"I've got bigger fish to fry than Raja Bell," he said. "Are
you kidding?"

Bryant drew his 14th technical of the season in a run-in with
Bell. Two more technicals and Bryant would have to serve a one-game
suspension, although the Lakers may ask that this one be rescinded.

"That was a ridiculous technical foul," Jackson said. "He
didn't say anything. I don't understand the refereeing in this
league if that's going to be a technical foul."

Shawn Marion scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter
and grabbed 14 rebounds. Leandro Barbosa added 23 points as seven
Phoenix players hit double figures.

Los Angeles didn't arrive in Phoenix until about 3 a.m. after
losing to the Nuggets 110-108 in overtime in Denver on Thursday
night. Bryant scored 42 in that one.

The Suns won for only the third time in seven games, and reached
50 victories for the season.

"I think we still weren't pleased with our performance," Nash
said. "We had some breakdowns, and some letdowns, but you know it
was obviously a lot better than recently."

Eddie House sank a pair of 3-pointers in the decisive
fourth-quarter surge.

In his 30-point first half, Bryant was 12-for-20 shooting. The
rest of the Lakers were 8-for-27. Two of Bryant's first-half field
goals were 3-pointers from at least 28 feet.

Nash, meanwhile, had 17 points and seven assists in the first
half, including a no-look, left-handed behind-the-back pass to Tim
Thomas. Nash scored the Suns' final seven points to help them take
a 64-52 lead at the break.

Barbosa scored eight -- including a 3-pointer and a three-point
play -- in an 11-2 spurt that put Phoenix ahead 49-36 with 5:09 left
in the half.

Three-pointers by Bryant started and finished a 10-0 Lakers' run
that cut it to 67-64 with 7:35 left in the third. Phoenix stretched
it to 77-70 on Nash's 17-footer, but Bryant's two free throws with
7.5 seconds left in the third cut the lead to 80-79 entering the
fourth.

Odom added 17 points for the Lakers, who never led.

The Suns scored the first eight points of the fourth -- six with
Bryant on the bench -- to go up 88-80. The first and last baskets
were dunks by Shawn Marion on lobs from Boris Diaw.

Game notes
Not counting the strike-shortened 1998-99 campaign, Phoenix
has won at least 50 games in 12 of the last 17 seasons. ... The
Suns haven't lost to the Lakers since signing Nash. ... Marion took
only one shot in the first half, and made it.