SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers navigated the first 19 games of the season without star Kobe Bryant well enough to welcome him back with a winning record.
Jodie Meeks made two huge 3-pointers in the final minutes to finish with 19 points, lifting the Lakers past the Sacramento Kings 106-100 Friday night in what's expected to be their last game before Bryant returns.
"You know who he is, he's Kobe Bryant. But he's not going to be able to do it by himself," said Lakers center Jordan Hill, who had seven points and nine rebounds. "We've got to go out there and fight for him and carry him."
So far this season, they have.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Steve Blake added 13 points and 10 assists for the Lakers (10-9), who held the Kings scoreless for nearly 3½ minutes until Ben McLemore's meaningless 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining.
The Lakers are counting on an even bigger boost when he returns against Toronto on Sunday, nearly eight months since undergoing surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.
"We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to have to do it by committee," said Meeks, who shot 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. "We don't have any superstars. Our superstar is coming back Sunday, but 19 games we didn't, so we had to share the ball."
DeMarcus Cousins and McLemore each scored 20 points, and Isaiah Thomas added 14 points and a season-high nine assists as Sacramento (4-13) lost its sixth straight game.
The Lakers outshot the Kings 47.7 to 43 percent but were outrebounded 51-36. Los Angeles forced 17 turnovers — and committed only 12 — to seize control in the final minutes.
The Lakers outscored the Kings 25-13 in the fourth quarter.
"The one major horror that jumps out at me with our team is discipline," first-year Kings coach Michael Malone said. "And right now, we have none."
After going down by 10 points late in the third quarter, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni called a timeout. He waved his arms in the air and shouted at his players to improve defensively.
"When I'm out of my mind, I just go with it," D'Antoni said. "I wanted to kill somebody at that point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."