LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant is rounding into All-Star form.
It sure didn't take long.
Bryant scored 40 points in his second game back from a
month-long layoff with an ankle injury, leading the Los Angeles
Lakers to a 102-95 victory over Utah on Tuesday night.
Next up for Bryant is Sunday's All-Star game in Denver.
"I'm going to go out there and play hard, the time that I'm out
there, whatever time it is," said Bryant, who expects to play
about 10 minutes for the Western Conference All-Stars.
Caron Butler, who scored 23 points for Los Angeles, was
impressed by Bryant's performance in his second game after the long
"It is amazing for a guy to sit out that long and still come
back and score 40 and will us to a `W.' That is just great
leadership," Butler said.
The game was Bryant's first at home since he sprained his right
ankle on Jan. 13. His first game back was in Sunday's 103-89 loss
at Cleveland, where he scored 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
He went 12-of-19 from the floor and 15-of-19 from the line
against the Jazz, plus eight assists and five rebounds.
"I needed to get a game under my belt to get my legs back, get
my rhythm back," Bryant said. "And it's back."
Chucky Atkins added 24 points, including a 3-pointer that gave
the Lakers a 96-95 lead with 54 seconds remaining. They stayed in
front the rest of the way, pulling away in the closing moments on
Starter Matt Harpring had 18 points for Utah.
Without that pair, the combined scoring average for the five
starters against the Lakers was a paltry 37.4 points a game.
Slava Medvedenko got his first start of the season for Los
Angeles, filling in for Lamar Odom, and had seven points and nine
rebounds. The Lakers said Odom had a virus, but should be fine in a
couple of days.
After trailing 62-49 early in the third quarter, Los Angeles
closed to 74-71 by the end of the period. Bryant got the Lakers
fired up when he was hacked on his right arm driving to the basket,
switched the ball to his left hand and lobbed the ball through the
After showboating a bit by staring at his left palm and feinting
disbelief, Bryant made the free throw to cut the lead to 68-64.
Kirilenko has missed 27 games, 26 because of a strained
right knee. Utah is 11-14 with Kirilenko in the lineup and 6-21
when he doesn't play. ... Odom is averaging 15.7 points and 10.3
rebounds a game. ... The Lakers are 2-5 since Rudy Tomjanovich
retired and assistant Frank Hamblen became interim coach.
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