LOS ANGELES (AP) — Back on the court after days of mourning, the Los Angeles Lakers grinded out a gritty win thanks to a vintage performance from their biggest star.
Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, Dwight Howard had 19 points and 16 rebounds, and Los Angeles capped a trying week with a 111-107 victory over the slumping Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Hours after longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss was buried, and a day after a moving memorial service punctuated by eulogies from Bryant and other franchise greats, the team got back to basketball with a much-needed victory at Staples Center.
"It's been a tough week," Howard acknowledged. "But as a team and a city and an organization, we're coming together. And it's great. We need all the support we can get from our fans, and the Buss family needs the support from us. So we're getting there. You could see the effort and emotion that we have on the court."
During his eulogy, Bryant publicly challenged his teammates in the audience to win a championship in Buss' memory — even though the Lakers are 3½ games behind Houston for the final Western Conference playoff spot with 26 games remaining.
"Kobe said what he had to say. But as a team, we understand how important the second half of the season is for us and what we want to accomplish," Howard said. "We've had a lot of ups and downs this year, and we want to do whatever we can to get this right. Kobe and myself understand that. It starts with me and him, as far as being on the same page. And on defense, it starts with me."
Bryant scored 11 points in the final 5½ minutes as the Lakers won for the seventh time in 10 games.
Antawn Jamison had 16 points off the bench, helping to hand Portland its season-worst seventh straight loss. The Trail Blazers have lost five consecutive road games and 10 of their last 11 away from the Rose Garden, leaving them 11th in the conference standings.
Portland led 82-80 after three quarters, and the lead changed hands 11 times before Steve Nash's layup gave the Lakers a 107-105 lead with 1:44 to play. Bryant fumbled the ball out of bounds on the Lakers' next possession, but the Blazers couldn't capitalize and Bryant closed it out with four free throws in the final 13 seconds.
Bryant finished 9 for 9 from the line and 15 of 23 from the floor, but still called it "somewhat of an off-shooting night."
"I had to be a little bit more assertive — but at the same time make plays for my team," said Bryant, who committed five turnovers. "I've been having off-shooting nights for the last month. We just need to continue to focus and approach every game like it's a playoff game."
Howard, looking for his sixth rebounding title in seven seasons, came in averaging an NBA-best and career-high 11.8 boards per game. The Lakers are 19-12 when he gets double digits in rebounds, and 11 of those losses have come on nights when he grabbed 14 or more. They wasted 26 boards in a home loss to Denver on Jan. 6, and 20 in a Dec. 11 loss at Cleveland.
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