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Kobe dazzles Wizards in final meeting with MJ

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Lakers coach Phil Jackson saw many spectacular performances by Michael Jordan. Now he marvels at Kobe Bryant.

Bryant scored 55 points, the most in the NBA this season, as the
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Jordan and the Washington Wizards
108-94 Friday night.

"That was an incredible demonstration,'' Jackson said. "It came to a point where there was that curiosity factor: Was he going to hit 80? I'm sure it went through his head.''

Bryant made everyone think of the possibilities when he scored 42 in the first half, breaking the team record for points in a half of 37, set by Elgin Baylor against the New York Knicks on Nov. 15, 1960. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record of 59 points, scored in the second half of his 100-point game in 1962.

"Normally, I would try to control the offense, but this morning Phil gave me the green light offensively for tonight,'' Bryant said.

A fan waved a sign that read, "Goodbye Michael, Hello Kobe,'' and that set the tone for Bryant. His performance came in what probably was his and Lakers' final game against the 40-year-old Jordan, who plans to retire after this season. Jackson was Jordan's coach in Chicago when the Bulls won six titles.

Asked if he felt he was passing the torch to Bryant, Jordan said, "He definitely has a share of the torch, and there's a couple of other guys that carry it as well.

"He was hot. We tried to keep him on the perimeter; we went out on him and he was still hot. He kept them in the game in the first half,'' added Jordan, who had 17 of his 23 points in the first half.

Often hailed as the "next Michael Jordan,'' a comparison he dislikes, the 24-year-old Bryant made nine shots in a row and scored 23 consecutive Los Angeles points during a stretch of 5:42 that began late in the second quarter.

The 55 points were one shy of Bryant's career best, and they
eclipsed the previous high in the league this season, 53 points by
New York's Allan Houston in a 117-110 win over the Lakers on Feb.
16.

Bryant has scored 50 or more points three times this season,
including 52 against Houston on Feb. 18.

He got 24 of his first-half points against Washington on 8-of-11
shooting from 3-point range, tying a league record for 3-pointers
in a half. He then went cold from the floor in the second half,
making just one of 10 shots, a 3-pointer, but he was 10-of-12 from
the line after halftime.

Bryant, who went out in the closing seconds of the third quarter after he committed his fourth foul, didn't return until midway through the final quarter. He was surprised Jackson put him back in the game.

"It shocked me. I thought I was done. I'm getting too old for Phil to surprise me,'' Bryant said with a grin.

Shaquille O'Neal added 26 points, 21 in the second half, and 13
rebounds for the Lakers.

Jerry Stackhouse added 22 points for Washington.

With Washington up 22-15 in the first quarter, Bryant scored 23
points in a row while making nine consecutive shots, and the Lakers
led 38-35 when that one-man show ended three minutes into the
second quarter.

Los Angeles was up 59-48 at halftime and wasn't seriously
threatened in the second half.

Earlier this season, Bryant set an NBA record by making a dozen
3-pointers in a game. He scored 45 points in that contest, a 119-98
win over Seattle on Jan. 7.

The Lakers paid tribute to Jordan between the first and second quarters with a video tribute to some of his memorable shots. Most in the sellout crowd gave Jordan a standing ovation afterward. Sitting on the bench, he raised his hand in acknowledgment.

He received another standing ovation when he left the game with 2:34 to play.

Jordan made his first four shots of the game -- all to cheers
from the Lakers' sellout crowd of 18,997 -- and added one free throw
before he finally missed on a 14-foot jumper.

Game notes
Bryant has scored 40 or more points in 18 games this season, including one seven-game stretch that was the league's
longest since Jordan did it in nine consecutive games in the 1986-87 season. ... Bryant's eight 3-pointers in a half gave him a share of the league record with Tim Thomas, Michael Redd and Ray Allen. ... The Wizards beat Los Angeles 100-99 at Washington on Nov. 8, but O'Neal was recovering from offseason toe surgery and did not play.

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