SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Kobe Bryant scored 19 points and tied a season high with 14 assists despite a nagging left foot injury, and the Los Angeles Lakers kept pace for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot by outlasting the Sacramento Kings 103-98 on Saturday night.
Bryant added nine rebounds and facilitated the Lakers’ offense for 47 minutes, 37 seconds after Steve Nash exited early in the first quarter with a recurring right hamstring injury. Bryant also passed Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) for fourth on the NBA’s career scoring list, after starting four points shy of the mark.
Dwight Howard added 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Steve Blake scored 15 points for the Lakers (38-36), who stayed even with Utah (38-36) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Los Angeles hosts 10th-place Dallas (36-37) in a critical tilt Tuesday night.
Tyreke Evans had 21 points and nine rebounds, and DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points and 11 rebounds in Sacramento’s latest loss. The Lakers won the season series 3-1.
With Bryant engineering the offense, Los Angeles showed some of its best ball movement of the season.
Bryant slipped a pass to Pau Gasol for a fast-break dunk – and his 13th assist – to put Los Angeles ahead 98-93 with 4:52 remaining. Gasol also tossed an alley-oop to Howard just before.
Sacramento refused to go away quietly at home. Cousins followed with a free throw and a long jumper, and Evans added a layup to slice the Lakers’ lead to two.
After Bryant missed a jumper, Jodie Meeks stripped Evans on a layup attempt at the other end. Bryant hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the Lakers ahead 101-98 with 24 seconds remaining, giving Sacramento one last chance.
Howard blocked Cousins’ 3-point attempt. After pleading with the official for a foul, Cousins got the ball back and he forced a 3-point miss. Bryant made two free throws to end a topsy-turvy night for the Lakers on a positive note.
Los Angeles lost Nash with a strained right hamstring just 1:48 into the game. Coach Mike D’Antoni patted Nash on the back before the point guard walked gingerly to the locker room and never returned.
Sacramento surged ahead 37-25 after the first quarter with a frenetic pace that often left the Lakers’ frontline in the backcourt. The Kings, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best 108.9 points since the All-Star break, made 15 of their first 21 from the floor.
Sacramento held Bryant scoreless until he hit a pair of free throws with 8:50 remaining in the second quarter. The shots sparked Bryant and the Lakers late in the half, along with a larger-than-normal sprinkling of Los Angeles fans sporting purple and gold throughout the announced sellout crowd of 17,317.
Bryant made a pull-up jumper from the free throw line with 7:54 remaining in the second quarter to eclipse Chamberlain.
Still, Bryant’s seventh assist of the half might have been his most important play. He found Blake for a 3-pointer to give the Lakers their first lead of the game, 51-50, before Sacramento went back ahead 57-53 at the break on Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left.
Bryant had a bone spur in his left foot that has bothered him for several games. The injury apparently is unrelated to his sprained left ankle, which occurred earlier in Atlanta.
With his foot stiffening up when he sits, Bryant came out for just 23 seconds.
Bryant finished a thunderous dunk down the lane and added two free throws and a pair of assists, rallying the Lakers back with a 14-1 run to close the third quarter. Los Angeles led 82-75 entering the fourth.
The Kings had scored at least 100 points in 20 of the previous 23 games, including 11 straight at home.
NOTES: Bryant has tossed 14 assists two other times this season. His career high is 15 assists against Washington on Feb. 12, 2002. Cousins was called for a technical foul in the second quarter for slamming his hand on the scorer’s table after officials whistled Thompson for a foul.
Kings F James Johnson rejoined the team and was shooting around before the game. He sat out his eighth straight game because of personal reasons.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.