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Kobe scores 43, Lakers cruise past Rockets

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Another high-scoring game by Kobe Bryant,
another Lakers' milestone.

Bryant scored 43 points Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles' 104-88
victory over Houston. It was his 23rd game of 40 or more points
tying a Lakers single-season record set by Elgin Baylor in 1962-63.

"I never in my wildest dreams dreamed of being in such great
company like Elgin and the other greats that have been here,"
Bryant said. "I've learned from a lot of greats, too, so I can't
take credit for it."

His Lakers' teammates nevertheless give him credit for his
40-point sprees.

"That is crazy to think about, especially when you know every
night that the other team's defense is focused on him," said the
Lakers' Luke Walton, who had 10 points and six rebounds against the
Rockets.

The Lakers' Lamar Odom said, "Today he could easily have gone
for 50."

Bryant went to the bench with 3:51 remaining and the Lakers
ahead 97-82.

Houston's Keith Bogans tried, mostly futilely, to slow down
Bryant.

"He's one of the toughest players that I've defended in this
league," Bogans said. "He just keeps going. He'll hit a couple,
then he'll miss, but he keeps playing with confidence.

"He's going to keep shooting, and once he knocks down a few, he
gets rolling and he's hard to stop."

Bryant and Yao Ming had a scoring duel in the first half. The
Lakers' star had 19 points and Yao 20 to help the Rockets take a
52-51 lead. Bryant took the game over early in the third quarter.

He scored 15 points in the first 5:13 of the period and Los
Angeles opened a 74-64 lead. He went 9-for-13 in the quarter and
the Lakers were up 88-70 heading by the end of the period.

"I just wanted to come out and provide some energy, and my shot
started falling," Bryant said. "It turned into a lot of momentum
for us. The third quarter has been our nemesis all year."

Yao, who finished with 33 points, said: "The third quarter was
the turning point. The third quarter when Kobe hit those shots.
Those were great shots. I think defensively we did everything we
could do, and he just made shots."

Among Bryant's other achievements this season was his 81-point
game that was a team record -- and second in NBA history behind only
Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point performance.

Smush Parker had 15 points and 10 assists for Los Angeles. Lamar
Odom added 21 points, and Kwame Brown had 10 points.

Yao, who had 16 rebounds, took only eight shots after halftime
and scored 13 points. He finished 16-for-25 from the floor.

The Lakers relied on the 6-foot-11 Brown to guard Yao by himself
most of the first half, then switched to more double-coverage on
the Rockets' 7-6 center in the second.

Rafer Alston had 12 points and Stromile Swift 10 for Houston.

The Lakers shot 55 percent, including Bryant's 19-of-32, to the
Rockets' 44 percent.

Game notes
Five of the Lakers' final seven games are at home, where
they are 22-14. ... Yao was coming off a 38-point, 11-rebound
performance in Houston's 105-103 win over Washington. ... The
Lakers' Brian Cook, who had only three points on Sunday, had been a
big factor the last time the teams played, with 27 points and 10
rebounds in an 89-78 win in Houston. Bryant had 32 points, nine
assists and six steals in that game, and Yao had 14 points and 13
rebounds. ... The Lakers have won nine of their last 13 against the
Rockets.