LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant's streak of 10 straight 30-point games ended only because he spent the fourth quarter on the bench alongside Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in a blowout win.
The way the Los Angeles Lakers are playing lately, Bryant has reason to hope he'll spend less time cramming boxscores and more time riding the pine.
Howard had 21 points and 14 rebounds, Bryant scored 27 points and the Lakers never trailed in their sixth win in seven games, 104-87 over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Pau Gasol had 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers closed out their 2012 schedule by climbing back to .500 (15-15) in their rocky season. Los Angeles had little trouble rolling past the Blazers, taking a 20-point lead in the first half and methodically dissecting Portland's defense with another fluid offensive performance.
"It was just energy," Bryant said. "We're playing really well. We've just got to keep it going."
The Lakers earned an easy fourth quarter with dominance in the first three, when they resembled the offensive powerhouse everybody expected to see in purple and gold this year.
"I'm a big believer that the ball will find energy," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "If you put energy on the floor, you end up with a good game."
Nash's playmaking again set an impressive tone for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Blazers 52-44 and took a 27-point lead late while scoring 23 fast-break points. Nash had 10 assists and six points while playing just 27 minutes in his fourth game back from a seven-week absence with a small fracture in his leg, the result of a collision with Portland's Damian Lillard on Oct. 31 in Nash's second game with the Lakers.
"We're obviously still a new team," Nash said. "It's new to me. I'm new to the offense. We're trying to figure it out. I think we're growing more and more cohesive, but I've got a long way to go."
The biggest impact was made by Howard, who played with noticeable urgency on both ends after a lackluster outing in Denver two days ago, blocking three shots and even hitting four straight free throws when Portland briefly played Hack-a-Howard with the 50 percent foul shooter in the second quarter.
"We just came out and we played hard tonight from the beginning," Howard said. "Our effort was there. We played inside-out, ran the ball, and our defense was real good tonight. And Pau was looking like (Dirk) Nowitzki out there. Pau Nowitzki hit two 3s."
Yes, even Gasol appeared to have little trouble getting open shots — including those two 3-pointers — despite playing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, a recently diagnosed condition that will only get better with rest. The Lakers have the weekend off before returning Tuesday against Philadelphia.
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