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 Byrant scores 23 as Lakers clinch playoff berth

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Join date : 2008-11-21

PostSubject: Byrant scores 23 as Lakers clinch playoff berth   Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:14 pm

SAN ANTONIO(AP) The Los Angeles Lakers
clinched a playoff spot with a fourth-quarter stand and a Kobe Bryant
moment that coach Phil Jackson said didn't feel at all like the
postseason.Sure could have fooled most people watching.Scoring
the last of his 23 points on a 3-pointer with 1:46 left, Bryant and the
Lakers became the first team in the West to secure a playoff spot with
a 102-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.The
Spurs have been the No. 2 team in the West most of the season, and Los
Angeles validated that pecking order with a road win that also wrapped
up the Pacific Division with a month to play in the regular season.Not that Bryant cared in the slightest."Oh yeah,'' Bryant cracked, "we're really big on Pacific Division titles.''Tony
Parker and Michael Finley had 25 points apiece for the Spurs, who
trailed by as much as 18 points before mounting a furious
fourth-quarter comeback. Parker hit a 3-pointer with 2:19 left to cut
the score to 95-93, but Bryant answered right back with his 3-pointer
in the face of rookie George Hill.As Bryant left the court, a few dozen fans chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!'' in what is usually hostile territory for the Lakers.Hill said he was surprised the shot went in."I
thought it was pretty good defense,'' Hill said. "But it's Kobe, and he
makes great plays. I did the best I could to challenge him and try to
push him back out. He's deadly.''Pau Gasol had 23 points and 11
rebounds for the Lakers. Lamar Odom had 12 points and 10 rebounds in
his return from a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an
altercation in Monday's loss to Portland.Tim Duncan had 16
points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs, whose lead over the Rockets in
the Southwest Division was cut to two games. San Antonio plays at
Houston on Saturday, when the Rockets will becoming off a Friday night
game at Charlotte.Drew Gooden made his Spurs debut after being
signed a week ago, but played just 3 1/2 minutes, scoring two points
and grabbing four rebounds."We couldn't get anything done
offensively, and defensively they made every shot,'' Parker said.
"After that we were in a big hole, and against the Lakers it's tough to
come back.''Trevor Ariza, who joined the Lakers' starting lineup this week, scored 10 points. Derek Fisher also added 10."You're
always surprised you jump out early, particularly in this building
because they play so well at home,'' Bryant said. "But that's what we
needed.''The close finished belied what looked like a Lakers blowout from the start.Forcing
the usually careful Spurs into 10 first-half turnovers, the Lakers
rolled to a 35-17 lead - the most points allowed by the Spurs in the
first quarter all season."It's difficult to spot the best team
in the league 18 points and then go play,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
said. "It was a really tough first quarter. They played great and
didn't miss many shots. They made shots and we played badly.''Bryant
had 14 at the half against defenders ranging from 37-year-old Bruce
Bowen to the rookie Hill. Finley kept the Spurs as close as he could,
hitting a trio of 3-pointers and scoring 17 in the first half.San
Antonio trailed 78-70 to start the fourth period, but the Lakers
couldn't put the Spurs away. Finley's 3-pointer with 10:30 left cut the
lead to 81-78, bringing the sold-out crowd to its feet in a game that
increasingly seemed to take on a playoff atmosphere.From his
vantage point, Jackson said he didn't feel like the game had playoff
intensity. But he was glad to end a three-game road trip with
back-to-back wins that started Wednesday in Houston, where the Lakers
broke the Rockets' 12-game winning streak at home."It salvaged a road trip,'' Jackson said.Popovich
said before the game he didn't know if Gooden would play, then inserted
his new big man for a brief spell in the second half. It was just the
third appearance since Jan. 19 for Gooden, who has been hobbled by a
groin injury since starting the season in Chicago and then being traded
to Sacramento last month.Notes: The Lakers took the season
series from the Spurs 2-1. ... Coach Phil Jackson said if Odom feels
any guilt for getting suspended for leaving the bench against Portland,
he shouldn't. "Those instincts are just sometimes stronger than
rationale,'' Jackson said. "It's just a cockamamie rule. It's a rule
has some sense in it, but doesn't stand up all the time. It just

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