The Los Angeles Lakers star scored a season-high 41 points, but Magic center Dwight Howard made eight of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, and Jameer Nelson had 27 points to lead Orlando to a 106-103 victory over the Lakers on Saturday night.
"ESPN magazine did a story about how to defend LeBron James," coach Stan Van Gundy joked. "I don't think anybody is coming to me for that gig about defending Kobe. We better keep winning games, so I can stay employed."
Bryant missed a three at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime. He made 14 of 31 shots, and all 11 of his free throws.
"They had three guys over at me every time (in the second half)," Bryant said. "When I get going, they send everybody.''
Orlando survived despite early foul trouble for Howard. Nelson had 15 points in the third quarter to lead the Magic back from an nine-point halftime deficit.
"I think it was really a good thing that I missed those two games,'' Howard said. "One, for me, giving rest for my body. And two, for my teammates that they can win without me, and do a lot of great things and trust each other."
In the last three days the Magic swept Western Conference contenders San Antonio and Los Angeles, giving them credibility as force for the NBA title.
"We believe we're contenders," Nelson said. "The naysayers say we're not. This means a lot. I think it's a statement game. It shows we're serious and we're contenders for the East."
The Lakers lost their last two games on last-minute shots.
"Those things are going to happen when you're on the road," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Those shots are more friendly at home, I guess."
Van Gundy said the Magic beat the Lakers at their best.
"It's hard for me for anyone to make a case the Lakers had a bad game," Van Gundy said.
Los Angeles, which fell to Miami on Friday night, lost two straight games for the first time this season.
Howard, playing his second outing after missing a pair of games with a sore knee, had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"He wanted the ball," Van Gundy said. "He really played well in the second half."
The Magic improved to 21-6.
"I'm not trying to lie to you. It feels good in perspective. But it counts as one (victory)," Van Gundy said.
Orlando held a lead late in the fourth quarter, and foul-plagued Howard hit a pair of free throws with just over a minute left. Rashard Lewis hit one of two free throws in the final minute to put the Magic up to stay.
Nelson hit a long jumper to tie it at 78 late in the third quarter, with the Magic using six 3s to get back in the game.
Bryant had 25 first-half points as the Lakers took a 58-49 halftime lead.
- The Magic made 12 of 33 3s.
- Los Angeles is on a five-game trip. The Lakers return home to play NBA champion Boston on Dec. 25.