Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 18 News List

NBA: Lakers book playoff berth, beat Spurs

STAR PERFORMANCES Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol both had 23 points against the Spurs, with Michael Findley and Tony Parker scoring 25 apiece for the hosts

DPA AND AP , LOS ANGELES AND SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers rolls on the court after being fouled in the fourth quarter of their NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

One night after carrying the Los Angeles Lakers to the finish line, Kobe Bryant saved them from a late collapse.

The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player scored 23 points, including the game-sealing three-pointer with 1:46 left, as the Lakers held off the San Antonio Spurs 102-95 on Thursday night in a showdown between the Western Conference leaders.

With the victory, the league-best Lakers (52-13) won the Pacific Division title for the 20th time in franchise history, and became the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot.

“Yeah, you know, we’re really big on Pacific Division titles around here,” Bryant said sarcastically.

Spaniard Pau Gasol had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who won two of three on their road trip. Lamar Odom finished with 12 and 10 boards after sitting out a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during a scuffle with Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

Michael Finley and Tony Parker scored 25 points apiece, while Tim Duncan had 16 with 11 rebounds for South-west Division-leading San Antonio (43-21), which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“It’s a good gauge for us, playing against the best team in the league,” Duncan said.

“We fell into a hole early and we spent the whole game trying to get out of it. We made our run, got within two and Kobe makes an amazing, fantastic three,” he said.

“If we do see them again in the playoffs, hopefully we’ve learned something from this game,” Duncan said. “You can’t spot a team like that as many points and expect to get back into it.”

Bryant scored 18 of his 37 points in the final quarter on Wednesday night to help Los Angeles end the Houston Rockets’ 12-game home winning streak.

Playing their second road game in as many nights against another Texas powerhouse, the Lakers raced to a 35-17 lead after the opening quarter, and 53-38 by halftime behind 14 points from Bryant and Gasol’s 12.

“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.”

Parker had just five points at the break, but the “French Flash” got on track, collecting 13 in the third quarter. Duncan added eight and the Spurs sliced a 15-point deficit to 78-70, heading into the final frame.

“I didn’t get that many shots in the first half,” Parker said. “But in the second half, me and Timmy were a little bit more aggressive”

A jumper by Kurt Thomas and Parker’s three-pointer capped a 10-2 run, drawing the Spurs within 95-93 with 2:20 left. However, following a time out, Bryant received the ball on the left wing, took a dribble and swished his three over rookie George Hill, making it 98-93.

“I thought it was pretty good defense,” Hill said. “But it’s Kobe, and he makes great plays.”

“It was a well-contested shot,” Duncan said. “It’s just Kobe being Kobe.”

Duncan and Gasol traded layups before Sasha Vujacic hit two free throws to ice the Lakers’ second win in three meetings this season against their long-time rivals.

“In the fourth quarter, they made their run which was expected,” Bryant said. “We did a god job of weathering the storm.”

CAVALIERS 119, SUNS 111

In Phoenix, Cleveland’s LeBron James got his third consecutive triple-double in a long-sought first win in Phoenix.

James had 34 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds, and Cleveland won a road game against the Suns for the first time in a decade.

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