A seventh consecutive victory for the Los Angeles Lakers looked that easy.
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Bryant scored 24 points and hit a pair of backbreaking 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, helping the Lakers preserve their second-longest winning streak of the season with a 92-83 victory on Wednesday night.
"It was a playoff-type of atmosphere," Bryant said. "We were down in the first half. We had to battle back. It was a good win for us to start this road trip."
He means a five-game road trip, the longest left for the Lakers before the playoffs. With only 11 games remaining, the West-leading Lakers have a six-game cushion on Dallas.
The Spurs, meanwhile, are seventh in the West, a half-game ahead of Portland.
San Antonio might have blown a chance to get more breathing room.
Manu Ginobili scored 24 points and George Hill had 21, but the Spurs got little help from anyone else. San Antonio had no other scorers in double figures, and got a dreadful 2-of-11 night from Tim Duncan, who finished with six points and 12 rebounds.
The Spurs led for much of the game, but after Bryant took over in the fourth, San Antonio wilted late against the best in the West. And the worst isn't behind the Spurs: Next up is LeBron James and East-leading Cleveland on Friday.
"You always want to beat the best teams, but at this point in the season, I just want to beat the team in front of me," Ginobili said. "If it's the worst or the best, we just need to win."
The Spurs shot 31 percent in the fourth quarter. Bryant was 4 for 5 and had 10 points in the period, including his two 3-pointers that put away San Antonio.
Bryant pulled up over Roger Mason Jr. to hit the first one, putting the Lakers up 80-74 with 5:41 left. Two minutes later, another one from the corner stretched the lead to 11.
"I think we understand that we're at the point of the year where we're really tuned in and focused about what we have to do out there," Gasol said. "Defensively, in that good mindset so it carries on to the offensive end."
The Lakers left for the road trip well-rested. Having played only twice in the previous seven days, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game he expected some lively legs.
Sure enough, the Lakers had all the stamina at the end.
The Lakers ran away from a game in which they mostly trailed. Not until Shannon Brown hit a 3-pointer with 1:30 left in the third quarter did the Lakers take the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
Hill got off to a blazing start and had 20 at halftime, but missed all three of his shots in the second half and mustered only one more point. It blemished what began as another promising game for Hill, who made his 10th start in place of Tony Parker.
"We played him a little better on the screen-and-rolls," Jackson said. "We were more prepared in the second half."
The Spurs fell to 6-4 without Parker, who isn't expected to return from a broken hand until the playoffs.
- Lakers C Andrew Bynum told the team Thursday his injured Achilles' tendon is feeling better, but Jackson said he isn't counting on Bynum coming back before the road trip ends March 31. Bynum strained the tendon last week and was expected to miss two weeks.
- Bryant surpassed Alex English to move into 12th on the NBA's career scoring list.