Bryant scores 52 in 54 minutes despite sore knee


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaq-Yao II didn't materialize, so it was
left to Kobe Bryant to provide the entertainment.

He didn't disappoint.

Bryant scored a season-high 52 points to make it 10 consecutive
games with 35 or more -- and a franchise-record six straight with at
least 40 -- as the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Houston Rockets
106-99 in double overtime Tuesday night.

Bryant had all nine of his team's points in the first overtime
and eight in the second extra period, leaving him one shy of the
NBA season-high of 53 scored by New York's Allan Houston in a
117-110 victory over the Lakers on Sunday night.

Playing on a sore right knee, Bryant shot 19-of-38 -- including
3-of-9 from 3-point range -- and made all 11 of his free throws.

"Hurting,'' he said when asked how his knee felt. "Oh, it was
killing me. I play around it. I just try to be a little creative.''

For good measure, Bryant also had eight rebounds and seven
assists while playing a career-high 54 minutes.

"He must not have been hurting that bad,'' Houston's Cuttino
Mobley said. "I don't know. Some people just have the will to win
and he had it.''

Shaquille O'Neal sat out the game with knee and toe injuries and
Houston rookie Yao Ming fouled out in the first overtime after
recording 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Of O'Neal's absence, Yao said through an interpreter: "I
figured we could be a little more relaxed without him on the court.
Maybe next time Kobe won't play.''

That drew a laugh from reporters.

Mark Madsen's dunk with 3:57 left put the Lakers ahead for good,
and Bryant added another dunk with 2:46 remaining to make it 97-94.

Derek Fisher scored the next five points to give the Lakers an
eight-point lead with 1:49 to play, and the Rockets were unable to
pose a serious threat after that.

By winning, the Lakers moved into a tie with the Rockets for the
eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Both teams have
27-25 records with 30 remaining.

Houston would have clinched the tiebreaker with a victory.

O'Neal will also miss Wednesday night's game in Utah.

"We think he'll be ready Friday,'' coach Phil Jackson said
before what he called the Lakers' biggest game since they last
played the Rockets on Jan. 17.

The three-time defending NBA champions are 23-15 with O'Neal and
4-10 without him.

Rick Fox added 15 points and Fisher scored 13 for the Lakers.

But the star was Bryant. Again.

"There's nothing more to say,'' Jackson said afterward. "It
was a great effort. It was almost too much.''

Jackson said he wasn't worried about Bryant running out of gas.

"He has plenty of that,'' the coach said. "It was his knee. He
was still willing to play and willing to take all the shots and
more. I was worried about his defense.''

Steve Francis shot 4-of-19 while scoring 17 points for the
Rockets. Maurice Taylor and Mobley each had 16 for Houston, which
lost for the fifth time in six games.

Francis scored a career-high 44 points in Houston's 108-104
overtime victory over the Lakers last month.

He was angry after this game.

"They're the champions, they're going to get all the calls when
the game is on the line,'' he said.

Bryant made two free throws with 51.1 seconds left in the first
overtime and a short turnaround jumper with 19.7 seconds to play
that tied the game at 91.

Mobley missed a driving shot at the buzzer, sending the game
into a second overtime.

Robert Horry's 3-pointer with 1:42 remaining in the fourth
quarter gave the Lakers a 82-79 lead.

But Taylor made a free throw with 1:32 left, and Yao made two
more with 8.3 seconds to go after rebounding Mobley's miss to tie
it at 82.
Bryant missed a 20-foot jumper at the buzzer, forcing the first

Game notes
The Rockets activated F Glen Rice and placed C Jason
Collier on the injured list. Sidelined four weeks with an injured
left shoulder, Rice smiled and said it was "strictly coincidence''
he was returning to action against Los Angeles. He was a starter on
the Lakers' championship team of three years ago. He had five
points in 35 minutes. ... The Rockets are 4-10 since beating the
Lakers on Jan. 17 -- the only time O'Neal and Yao have played
against each other. ... Michael Jordan was the last to score 35 or
more in 10 straight games, doing so in the 1986-87 season. ...
Tiger Woods, entered in the PGA event in the area later this week,
watched the game from a front-row seat.