SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the NBA’s scoring list, then put on one of the best passing performances of his storied career.
Bryant scored 19 points and tied a season high with 14 assists despite a nagging left foot injury, and the Los Angeles Lakers kept pace for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot by outlasting the Sacramento Kings 103-98 on Saturday night.
“My foot’s (messed) up, but other than that, I feel great,” he said, chuckling.
Bryant added nine rebounds and facilitated the Lakers’ offense for 47 minutes, 37 seconds after Steve Nash exited early in the first quarter with a recurring right hamstring injury. He helped Los Angeles tie a season low with seven turnovers.
“I thought that was key — those 23 seconds. Otherwise he would’ve been tired,” coach Mike D’Antoni said, sarcastically. “He just looked at me and said, ‘I’m not coming out tonight.’ Sounds good to me.”
With Bryant engineering the offense, Los Angeles showed some of its best ball movement of the season.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 15 rebounds, Pau Gasol added 12 points and 10 assists and three others scored in double figures for the Lakers (38-36), who stayed even with Utah (38-36) for the eighth and final playoff seed. Los Angeles hosts 10th-place Dallas (36-37) in a critical tilt Tuesday night.
Even with the pressure of a playoff race, Bryant was all smiles in a cramped quarter of Sacramento’s visiting locker room. He had met Chamberlain when he was about 8 years old in Philadelphia and long held the Lakers legend in higher esteem than some milestones he’s reached because of the franchise connection.
“He was like Conan the Barbarian,” Bryant said. “That was the most impressive thing to me. He was just a warm-hearted gentleman.”
Bryant’s latest performance proved too much for the Kings again.
Tyreke Evans had 21 points and nine rebounds, and DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points and 11 rebounds but missed a pair of difficult 3-pointers in the final seconds to seal Sacramento’s latest loss. The Lakers won the season series 3-1.
“I guess you can’t really talk bad about the way these guys competed,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “I thought our guys did everything they could from a statistical standpoint outside of winning the basketball game.”
At least until the closing moments.
Bryant slipped a pass to Gasol for a fast-break dunk — and his 13th assist — to put Los Angeles ahead 98-93 with 4:52 remaining. Gasol also tossed an alley-oop to Howard just before.
Cousins followed with a free throw and a long jumper, and Evans added a layup to slice the Lakers’ lead to two. After Bryant missed a jumper, Jodie Meeks stripped Evans on a layup attempt at the other end. Bryant hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the Lakers ahead 101-98 with 24 seconds remaining, giving Sacramento one last chance.
Howard blocked Cousins’ 3-point attempt. After pleading with the official for a foul, Cousins got the ball back and he forced a 3-point miss before Bryant’s final free throws sealed Sacramento’s latest loss.
“The play wasn’t for me. I was supposed to hand it off,” Cousins said. “But I got hit in my lower groin and it kind of screwed up the play.”
Los Angeles lost Nash with a strained right hamstring just 1:48 into the game. D’Antoni patted Nash on the back before the point guard walked gingerly to the locker room and never returned. Nash is day to day.
Sacramento surged ahead 37-25 after the first quarter with a frenetic pace that often left the Lakers’ frontline in the backcourt. The Kings, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best 108.9 points since the All-Star break, made 15 of their first 21 from the floor.
Sacramento held Bryant scoreless until he hit a pair of free throws with 8:50 remaining in the second quarter. The shots sparked Bryant and the Lakers late in the half, along with a larger-than-normal sprinkling of Los Angeles fans sporting purple and gold throughout the announced sellout crowd of 17,317.
Bryant made a pull-up jumper from the free throw line with 7:54 remaining in the second quarter to eclipse Chamberlain’s mark of 31,419 points. The only three ahead of him now is Michael Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).
Asked if Abdul-Jabbar’s record is obtainable for him, Bryant said “I don’t see it happening” unless he decides to play longer than planned.
“What a journey,” said Bryant, in his 17th season. “It’s been a very, very long journey. I’m certainly extremely appreciative of all the support of the Laker faithful, the Laker Nation.”
Bryant had a bone spur in his left foot that has bothered him for several games. The injury apparently is unrelated to his sprained left ankle, which occurred earlier in Atlanta, though he said the soreness all sort of blends together.
With his foot stiffening up when he sits, Bryant came out for just 23 seconds.
Bryant finished a thunderous dunk down the lane and added two free throws and a pair of assists, rallying the Lakers back with a 14-1 run to close the third quarter. Los Angeles led 82-75 entering the fourth.
The Kings had scored at least 100 points in 20 of the previous 23 games, including 11 straight at home. With a possible move to Seattle the latest relocation threat for the Kings, Bryant didn’t think he had played his last game in Sacramento.
“I predict we’ll be back here,” Bryant said. “You guys have been saying the same (thing) for three years.”
MAVERICKS 100, BULLS 98
Dirk Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left and Dallas rallied to beat Chicago.
The Mavericks trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter, but Nowitzki scored Dallas’ last eight points in a closing 15-1 run over the final 3½ minutes of the game. He finished with a season-high 35 points.
After Jimmy Butler missed two free throws with 15.9 seconds remaining, Nowitzki connected on the winning 3 with Luol Deng running at him. Chicago’s Nate Robinson then missed a jumper at the buzzer that would have tied it.
Robinson scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth in Chicago’s first game since ending the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak.
ROCKETS 98, CLIPPERS 81
HOUSTON — Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia scored 15 points apiece to lead Houston over Los Angeles.
Houston was playing without shooting guard and leading scorer James Harden, who missed his third game of the season with a right ankle sprain.
Garcia had his best game as a Rocket, hitting 3 of 5 shots from beyond the arc as a spark off the bench to help Houston snap a two-game losing streak.
Point guard Chris Paul was the only Clippers starter to play in the final quarter, finishing with 19 points, seven assists and three steals.
THUNDER 109, BUCKS 99
MILWAUKEE — Kevin Durant scored 30 points, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, and Oklahoma City beat Milwaukee.
Durant shot 10 of 19 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line in becoming the seventh player this season to score 30 points against the Bucks.
Durant is on pace to join Larry Bird in 1986-87 as the only players to average more than 28 points while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 90 percent from the line and 40 percent from 3-point range.
Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds. Kevin Martin added 17 points.
Ersan Ilyasova had 29 points and 14 rebounds for Milwaukee. Epke Udoh had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
JAZZ 116, NETS 107
SALT LAKE CITY — Randy Foye scored 26 points, tying a career high with eight 3-pointers, and Utah beat Brooklyn to keep Deron Williams winless against his former team.
The victory was the fourth straight for Utah (38-36), which entered the night eighth in the Western Conference by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Williams played better than he did in his first trip back in January 2012, but couldn’t match the 3-point shooting of Utah. Foye made 8 of 9 and the Jazz 10 of 17 as a team.
Brook Lopez led Brooklyn (42-31) with 27 points. Williams had 21 on 6-of-14 shooting, with 11 assists.
Utah outscored Brooklyn 31-20 in the third quarter after trailing by two at half.
HAWKS 97, MAGIC 88
ATLANTA — Ivan Johnson scored a season-high 21 points off the bench, and Devin Harris had 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as Atlanta pulled away to beat Orlando.
The Hawks used their 27th different starting lineup in a game between short-handed teams, but the result was familiar. Atlanta (41-33) has beaten Orlando 10 straight times and is now fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, a half-game ahead of Chicago.
Johnson, who received extended playing time largely because Hawks center Al Horford missed his second straight game with a stomach illness, added 10 rebounds.
Beno Udrih, filling in for injured point guard Jameer Nelson, led Orlando with 20 points, and center Nikola Vucevic returned to the lineup with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
GRIZZLIES 99, TIMBERWOLVES 86
MINNEAPOLIS — Marc Gasol scored 21 points and Memphis pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Minnesota.
Mike Conley scored 19, Zach Randolph 14 and Darrell Arthur had 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for the Grizzlies, who ended a five-game road losing streak with their 11th straight victory over Minnesota.
Ricky Rubio just missed his second career triple-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Derrick Williams added 19 points for the Timberwolves, who were playing without center Nikola Pekovic. He missed the game after spraining his left ankle Friday late in a victory over Oklahoma City after scoring 22 points and adding 15 rebounds.
WARRIORS 125, TRAIL BLAZERS 98
OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry scored 39 points and Golden State moved one step closer toward ending its five-year playoff drought by beating Portland.
Carl Landry had a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds coming off the bench, while David Lee had 13 points for the Warriors, who maintained their 1½-game lead over Houston for sixth place in the Western Conference. Golden State lowered its magic number for clinching a playoff berth to five.
Meyers Leonard led the Trail Blazers with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Damian Lillard scored 16 points for Portland and tied the NBA’s single-season rookie record for 3-pointers, but was nowhere as effective as he was in his first trip back home. The Oakland native shot just 4 of 11 from the floor and committed three turnovers.
PACERS 112, SUNS 104
PHOENIX — Paul George scored 25 points to lead all five Indiana starters in double figures and the Pacers won their fourth straight.
Roy Hibbert scored 20, Lance Stephenson 16, George Hill 15 and David West 14 for the Pacers.
The Pacers’ seventh victory in eight games lifted them a half-game ahead of idle New York for second in the Eastern Conference.
Goran Dragic, who sat out the previous two games for rest, had 21 points and nine assists for the Suns before fouling out with 1:10 to play. Phoenix has lost six in a row.
Indiana made 34 of 46 free throws, its season high in makes and attempts.
76ERS 100, BOBCATS 92
PHILADELPHIA — Jrue Holiday scored 10 straight points down the stretch, Evan Turner finished with 22 and Philadelphia beat Charlotte.
After going 1 for 9 in the first three quarters, Holiday got 11 of his 14 points in the fourth to help the Sixers win for the seventh time in 11 games.
Spencer Hawes had 19 points and Thaddeus Young and Damien Wilkins each scored 15 for Philadelphia.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 21 for Charlotte, which has the worst record in the NBA. Gerald Henderson, who had 35 and 34 in his previous two games, finished with 19.