Kobe leads Lakers past Oklahoma City 105-96

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By GREG BEACHAM, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, Steve Nash added seven of his 17 points in the final 5½ minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder 105-96 Sunday.

Pau Gasol scored 16 points in a reserve role as the Lakers picked up the most impressive victory of their thoroughly unimpressive season, coolly maintaining a small lead down the stretch of their second straight win after a four-game skid.

Los Angeles had lost nine of its last 11 against the powerful Thunder, including four of five in the clubs' second-round playoff series last spring.

Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the road-weary Thunder, who finished their longest trip of the season at 3-3.

Bryant and Westbrook briefly tangled in the third quarter in an exchange that earned a technical foul for Kobe. Both All-Star guards entered the fourth quarter needing just one rebound for a triple-double, but neither got it.

Westbrook also missed his first eight shots and 12 of his first 13 before finding his shot, but the Lakers didn't wilt down the stretch.

Los Angeles took the lead with 6:15 to play on a jumper by Metta World Peace, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers nursed a small advantage in the final minutes, going up 101-95 on Gasol's driving layup with 1:09 to play.

Bryant then hit a tough 19-foot jumper with 37 seconds left, and Westbrook couldn't answer. Durant didn't have a field goal in the final 6:39, scoring just seven points in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City's third loss in 11 games.

Oklahoma City routed the Lakers at Staples Center 16 days ago, with Durant scoring 42 points and Westbrook adding 27 while Los Angeles played without Dwight Howard and Gasol.

Howard had eight points and 10 rebounds while fighting foul trouble and missing eight of his 10 free throws. Bryant and Nash led a passionate effort by the Lakers, whose season-long missteps and embarrassments have left them well out of the playoff picture heading into the second half of the season.

The Lakers got off to another solid start against the Thunder, with Antawn Jamison leading a 13-2 run spanning the first two quarters. Westbrook's awful shooting balanced Howard's 1-for-8 woes at the free-throw line in the first half, but Westbrook finally hit his first shot with 8 seconds left to put the Thunder up 53-52 at halftime.

The teams traded the lead 14 times in the first three quarters, entering the fourth tied at 75 despite the Lakers' 12-for-24 effort at the free-throw line and Westbrook's erratic shooting. Bryant also got a technical foul for a brief exchange with Westbrook, who fouled the Lakers star and then bumped him with a shoulder after Bryant put his hand on him.

Westbrook got a technical foul of his own with 5:22 to play after arguing a no-call.

NOTES: The clubs conclude their season series in Oklahoma City on March 5. ... Lakers owner Jerry Buss celebrated his 79th birthday. The Basketball Hall of Famer hasn't attended a game this season while dealing with health concerns. ... Derek Fisher, the five-time champion Lakers guard who finished last season with the Thunder, watched from a courtside seat. Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, Alessandro Nivola, Horace Grant and baseball stars Matt Kemp, Vernon Wells and Michael Young also sat courtside.

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