LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored 18 of his 36 points in the third quarter, Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 14 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers handed the Phoenix Suns their fourth straight loss, 111-99 on Friday night.
It was only the fourth time in 30 games this season that the Lakers reached the 100-point mark. Pau Gasol had 13 rebounds and 10 points, and Matt Barnes added 17 points off the bench along with seven boards in 25 minutes. Bryant had nine rebounds and six assists.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping attended the game, capping a four-day visit to the U.S. He entered the arena on a red carpet during the second quarter and observed the proceedings from the second tier of luxury suites above the official scorer's table and the players' benches.
Bryant scored at least 40 in each of his previous two games against Phoenix, including a 48-point effort in the Lakers' 99-83 win on Jan. 10 at Staples Center — his highest-scoring game in the NBA when not making a 3-point shot.
Center Marcin Gortat, the only player to start all 31 games for the Suns, led them with 21 points and 16 rebounds on his 28th birthday. Steve Nash had 17 assists along with 11 points.
The Lakers took an 83-63 lead with an 18-2 run capped by Bryant's 3-pointer with 3:20 left in the third. Phoenix guard Shannon Brown, who won two championship rings with the Lakers, cut the margin to 87-73 with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds of the quarter — one of them a buzzer-beater.
Brown, the last player off Phoenix's bench, played 20 minutes and had 15 points after sitting out six of the previous games due to a coach's decision. He came in averaging 9.0 points and 21.1 minutes in 23 previous games since signing with Phoenix as a free agent on Dec. 11.
Phoenix rookie Markieff Morris hit a 3-pointer to cut the Lakers' lead to 93-83 with 6:47 remaining, less than a minute before Bryant reported back in. Brown cut it to 95-90 on a spectacular slam dunk, grabbing Morris' missed jumper above the rim and slamming it down in one motion with 4:30 to play.
But Derek Fisher responded with a pull-up jumper, and Bryant followed with a pair of short jumpers to give the Lakers a 101-90 lead with 2:42 left. The Suns got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
Three Lakers scored in double digits in the first half, including Barnes, whose 11 points helped them take a 57-48 lead at intermission. Gortat had 14 points and nine rebounds in the half for Phoenix.
Coach Mike Brown's much-maligned bench outscored the starters 24-21 over the first 20 minutes, as Troy Murphy and Steve Blake hit 3-pointers 23 seconds apart to cap an 11-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 45-35 lead 5:56 left in the second quarter.
Notes: The Suns had 17 turnovers, which the Lakers converted into 21 points. The strangest one came early in the first quarter when Nash had the ball at the top of the key, tried to whip a pass to Jared Dudley in the left corner for a possible 3-point shot, and the ball ricocheted off teammate Grant Hill's head and out of bounds as Hill darted down the lane. ... The Suns are 8-10 when Nash has double-digits in assists, and 3-7 when he doesn't. They are 0-3 in the games he's missed. ... The Suns are 0-16 when trailing after three quarters. ... Fisher, who was sent home from Thursday's practice because of a sinus infection, extended his consecutive-game playing streak to 525 — the longest among active players. It was his 403rd straight start, and he finished with 12 points in 25 minutes after missing his first three shots. ... The teams meet again Tuesday night at Phoenix, when the Suns begin a three-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break.
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