Kobe has 23 points, ties career high with six steals

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Even a poor shooting night could not damper Kobe Bryant's spirits after the Lakers' victory.

Bryant was 6-for-20 from the field and was outscored by Utah guard Devon Brown, but his 23 points were enough to help the Lakers beat the Jazz 94-88 on Monday night.

Bryant, whose league-leading scoring average dropped from 35.2 to 34.9, averaged 43.4 points in January -- including a franchise-record 81-point effort against Toronto and a streak of 62 free throws made.

"I really don't care about the scoring title. I could care less," Bryant said. "I don't care about shooting the ball or anything. I mean, if I need to score 35 or 40 points, or whatever it is, I do it to win the game. If I don't need to, then I don't. We needed this win, and that is what we were able to do."

Lamar Odom had 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers, who lead Utah by 1½ games for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

"I don't play for eighth seeds, seventh seeds or sixth seeds. I play for titles. So I don't even think about judging the progression of the season until we get to that championship form again, where we start contending for a title," Bryant said.

"The positives started last season, they're continuing this season, and it's about to get back up to that level. We're not there yet, but this is the path. We're doing all right. We're playing in peaks and valleys, which is expected, and we knew coming into the season that's what it was going to be about."

Brown had a career-high 25 points and Mehmet Okur had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost for the fifth time in six road games. Andrei Kirilenko missed his first six shots and was 2-for-12 overall.

Utah swept the Lakers in a home-and-home set in early January that coincided with Bryant's two-game suspension for his flagrant foul against Memphis guard Mike Miller on Dec. 28 at Staples Center. The only other time the Jazz faced Bryant this season was on Dec. 1 in a 105-101 loss, when he scored 30 points and sank a pair of game-tying free throws with 0.4 seconds left in regulation before fouling out in overtime.

Bryant ended his shooting drought on a 13-foot fadeaway jumper with 5.3 seconds left in the opening quarter. His 3-pointer gave the Lakers their biggest lead, 44-20, with 3:32 left in the first half. The nine-time All-Star also tied a career high with six steals -- all before halftime.

"We had 23 turnovers and gave away 28 points," coach Jerry Sloan said. "They went after the ball hard, and we looked like we were running in mud."

Trailing by 17, Utah sliced the deficit to 84-74 as Deron Williams scored all seven of his points in a 1:55 span. He hit a 20-footer and a 3-pointer, then added a layup with 6:10 remaining. But Bryant converted center Jaron Collins' sixth foul into a three-point play for an 89-76 lead with 3:01 left, and the Jazz got no closer than seven points.

Los Angeles opened the second quarter with a 23-7 run in which seven players scored. Bryant capped the run with a free throw after technical foul against Utah coach Sloan, who had to be restrained by one of his assistants after Cook was fouled by Kirilenko on a driving layup and completed the three-point play.

"We lost the game in the second quarter," Kirilenko said. "It's so hard to beat the Lakers here when you get down by 20 points. We can't play like this."

Kwame Brown missed all five of his field-goal attempts after shooting 6-for-6 in the Lakers' home loss to Memphis on Saturday, when he tied a season high with 18 points.

Game notes
Monday marked one year since Karl Malone announced his retirement. The NBA's second-all-time leading scorer, who will have his No. 32 jersey retired by Utah on March 23, played 18 seasons with the Jazz before ending his career with the Lakers. ... Sloan is 20-34 against teams coached by Phil Jackson, including the
postseason. Jackson's Chicago Bulls beat the Jazz four games to two
in the 1997 and 1998 finals. ... Bryant has no offensive rebounds
in his last seven games, and just three over his last 17. ... This
was Utah's final game before the All-Star break. Their only
representation in Houston next weekend is Williams, the third
overall pick in the draft, who will take part in the
Rookie-Sophomore game. ... Mihm had an MRI exam Monday and said he
expects to play against Portland on Feb. 21 in the Lakers' first
game after the All-Star break.


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