SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers got to celebrate
the end of a nine-game road losing streak and something that's
much, much bigger.
Out for six games because of a sprained right shoulder, Kobe
Bryant returned from the injured list with 21 points and six
assists and the Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 93-86 Saturday night.
"I was ready to play. Especially coming back to a challenge,
playing on the road," Bryant said. "Coming back on a home game is
It certainly wasn't easy Saturday. Bryant was booed nearly every
time he touched the ball, jeered loudly every time he missed and
was knocked down several times before gingerly getting up without
putting much pressure on his right shoulder.
Bryant made his first shot and three of his next four to show
that he was far from rusty despite sitting out since being injured
Jan. 12. The Lakers sent Utah to its season-high fifth straight
Bryant felt good during the team shootaround earlier in the day
and was activated.
"I think we were truly energized by the return of Kobe. He
helped us get going, shoot the ball well at the beginning of the
game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He brought an energy and
a cockiness to the game that gave them a confidence level that they
hadn't played with in the last two road games."
The Lakers had last won on the road Dec. 4, beating Dallas
Slava Medvedenko tied his career high with 26 points and Gary
Payton scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including a
3-pointer that sealed it with 13 seconds remaining.
But the night belonged to Bryant, who finally gave the Lakers
some good news regarding injuries.
"I've been ready to play for a while. Just waiting to get off
the injured list," Bryant said. "If it's good enough to play,
suit up and go."
A healthy Bryant and Payton give the Lakers half of their Big
Four that many expected at the beginning of the season to carry the
Lakers to the NBA title. But the other half is still going to be
out for a while.
Karl Malone, who's out with a knee injury, didn't travel with
the Lakers for what would have been his first game in Utah since
leaving the Jazz as a free agent last summer. Shaquille O'Neal
(calf) is out until at least next week.
The Lakers don't play again until Wednesday's home game against
"There's a good possibility that we won't have Shaquille, even
though he has mouthed the fact that he'd like to come back on
Wednesday," Jackson said.
The Jazz, who fell below .500 for the first time this season at
21-22, have been hit just as hard by injuries, dressing just 10
players. Leading scorer Andrei Kirilenko missed his fourth straight
with a sprained ankle.
Utah twice cut a 19-point lead to three, but couldn't quite
"It's tough to deal with the injuries, but you have to play
with what you've got," said Carlos Arroyo, who had 16 points and
six assists for Utah.
Utah led several times in the first half and made two huge runs
in the second half, including once in the final minutes.
Arroyo cut the Laker lead to 87-81, Jarron Collins made a free
throw and Arroyo added two more from the line with 1:01 remaining
to make it 87-84, but Medvedenko and Payton ended the Jazz
Medvedenko pulled in a rebound -- one of his seven on the offense
boards -- and the ball got outside to Payton at the top of the arc
and Payton made it a six-point game.