Once he was able to get his teammates involved in the scoring and spread out the floor, Bryant took over and scored 16 of his 28 points in the final 6:44 to lead the Lakers to a 109-106 victory over Orlando on Friday night.
"If I started doing that in the first quarter, you'd see doubles coming and zones shifting and all that other stuff. But that didn't happen in the fourth quarter because everybody was a threat," Bryant said.
"We had the floor spaced because everybody shot the ball so well in the first 3 1/2 quarters. So in the fourth quarter, I caught the ball in isolation situations because no double-team was coming. And then I was able to operate."
The Lakers beat Orlando for the fifth straight time and 15th in 17 meetings. They barely avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season with a career-high 26 points from Smush Parker.
"We just ran our offense. My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open and I was able to knock down some jump shots," Parker said. "Once I hit my first basket, it carried me throughout the game both offensively and defensively."
Dwight Howard had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Southeast Division-leading Magic, but missed nine of 16 free throws. Grant Hill, playing in his third game after missing the previous three with a sore left foot, finished with 20 points as Orlando's five-game winning streak ended.
Bryant reported back in with 7:19 remaining and got the Lakers' next six points. Parker, who had an 18-point third quarter against the Magic in the Lakers' 106-93 victory on Dec. 27 at Orlando, put Los Angeles back in front 97-96 on a driving layup with 4:27 to play.
The lead changed hands two more times before Darko Milicic's hook shot tied it at 103-all with 1:53 left. Bryant's 12-footer from the right baseline gave the Lakers a 107-105 lead they would not relinquish.
"We tried to do our best to get the ball in the paint and score, but we couldn't stop them from scoring," Howard said. "Kobe hit some tough shots, and we were missing our free throws."
Howard missed two foul shots and Bryant sank both of his with 20 seconds to go. Howard then made one of two from the line and Parker missed both free throws at the other end, giving Orlando the ball with 9.8 seconds left. However, Jameer Nelson's hurried attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer from above the key hit the front rim as time expired.
Neither team led by more than seven points. Bryant's two free throws gave the Lakers a 68-61 margin with 6:26 left in the third quarter. Orlando forward Tony Battie did not attempt a field goal in his first 22 1/2 minutes on the floor, then made his first three shots in a 1:52 span -- all within four feet of the basket -- to narrow the gap to 73-72.
The Magic have lost 10 straight to the Lakers in Los Angeles since March 17, 1996, when Dennis Scott provided the winning margin in a 98-97 victory with a shot that tied the NBA single-season record for 3-point baskets. Scott finished that season with 267, a mark that stood until Seattle's Ray Allen eclipsed it on April 19, 2006.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said nothing was new considering the team's attempts to land free agent Chris Webber, whose contract was bought out by the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Webber can't sign with anyone until next Tuesday at the earliest. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, was not at the game according to a Lakers spokesperson.
"We won't know anything until we actually speak to his agent -- if he ever returns a call," Jackson said. "There's some qualifications to joining the running in this beauty contest, but I don't think we're going to push this envelope any farther than we have to. We're just sitting and watching this drama unfold."
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a special assistant coach for the Lakers and the NBA's career scoring leader, reacted philosophically when asked about Houston's Dikembe Mutombo passing him for second place on the all-time blocks list this week. "My first four years in the league they didn't count blocks," Abdul-Jabbar said. "So I probably feel like Bill Russell -- that Russell's No. 1."