Although the Lakers keep finding new ways to flummox their fans and themselves, they're also still finding ways to win.
Dwight Howard had 19 points and 18 rebounds, Antawn Jamison added 19 points, and the Lakers survived Bryant's bizarre four-point performance for their eighth victory in 11 games, 91-85 over the Suns on Tuesday night.
Even in this tumultuous season jam-packed with statistical oddities and high-profile failures, the Lakers' latest victory is a curiosity. Returning from a seven-game road trip, the Lakers hung on to win despite the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history, who had never played this many minutes (36) with just one field goal in his 17-season career.
Bryant didn't attempt a shot in the first half and scored his first basket with 2:13 to play, finishing 1 for 8 in his lowest-scoring game since Jan. 13, 2005, when he left a game against Cleveland after six minutes with an injury.
Yet after the win, he greeted his horrific statistics with a smile.
"I thought it was great, actually," Bryant said. "Obviously, scoring four points, going 1 for 8, that's not necessarily a recipe for success. ... But it's not about us as individuals. It's about what we can do to help the team."
Bryant counteracted his nine assists -- just one in the second half -- with a raft of turnovers, yet the Lakers survived against one of the NBA's worst teams with big plays from Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, who scored 17 points. Bryant finally got an 8-foot leaner to fall, keeping the Lakers in control.
"I guess every 17 years, he's allowed that," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I wouldn't be too tough on him. It was just one of those nights. He was trying too hard to get everybody else involved. You've got to walk the fine line, and he's way over the other line. ... Just write it off and get to the next one."
Los Angeles returned from its longest road trip of the season with its fourth straight home win, but Bryant -- the NBA's third-leading scorer this season -- took his recent propensity for playmaking to an uncomfortable extreme, particularly in the first half. Although he blamed the Suns' double-teams, Kobe even passed up fairly decent looks to force passes to his teammates on a few occasions, voluntarily removing his shooting skills from the Lakers' offense.
"I've been doing that since January, when I was trying to make the right play, keep everybody involved, and then I try to get going a little bit," Bryant said. "But they took away my post-ups to see if the other guys could beat us, or maybe if I'd get frustrated or force things a little bit, but I just took the double-teams and just tried to make the right play."
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Along with Bryant's disappearing act, the Lakers won despite managing just nine points in the third quarter, their lowest-scoring period of the season. Bryant finally started shooting in the third quarter, but was just as inept as his teammates, missing all five of his attempts.
The Lakers didn't make a basket in the third quarter after World Peace's 3-pointer with 8:58 left, and Phoenix took its first lead late in the period despite its own poor shooting while the Lakers missed 16 of their 19 shots and went 9:21 without a basket.
Michael Beasley scored 18 points and Luis Scola had 15 for the Suns, who have lost eight of 10.
"We get so close, play so well in the third quarter and figure it out, and then we went away from it in the fourth quarter for some reason," said Jared Dudley, who scored 10 points.
Jodie Meeks' layup reclaimed the lead with 8:40 to play, and the Lakers kept that small advantage down the stretch.
The Lakers began their seven-game trip necessitated by the Grammy Awards with a 92-86 loss at Phoenix on Jan. 30, blowing a big second-half lead and losing Howard to the shoulder injury that still dogs him. The Suns were 1-5 since, including an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma City last Sunday.
"I wouldn't go that far to say that we held (Bryant) down, because he's a great player," Beasley said. "But we did what we wanted to do, as far as our assignments. We just didn't finish. It's a little frustrating. Our defense really hurt us tonight, except for the third quarter. In the first half and the fourth quarter, they got whatever they wanted on the weak side."
NOTES: F Earl Clark scored 11 points, but sat in favor of Jamison down the stretch. Clark played the Lakers' entire road trip with pain in his right foot, with the Lakers attributing it to inflammation or tendinitis. Clark says the pain reminded him of a stress fracture from his college career at Louisville, but he intends to play through it. ... Will Ferrell and Shaquille O'Neal watched the game from courtside seats underneath the basket on the Lakers' end of the floor. During a third-quarter timeout, Ferrell donned the red blazer worn by Staples Center security personnel and stood on the court. Later, he jokingly escorted O'Neal off the court.
Press; By GREG BEACHAM]
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