Kobe takes control in fourth quarter as Lakers win 12th in 13 games

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Kobe Bryant has heard nothing but boos and derisive cowbells during his long, colorful history in Sacramento until Tuesday night, when he accomplished his latest stunning feat in California's capital.

Somehow, Kobe coaxed a few "M-V-P!" chants from the stands in the city that hates to love him.

Bryant scored 17 of his 34 points in an electric fourth-quarter performance, and Pau Gasol added 31 points in Los Angeles' 12th victory in 13 games, 117-105 over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

Bryant has been frequently brilliant in the playoffs at Arco Arena, yet he was once bizarrely unwilling to shoot in the first half of a regular-season game. He also persevered through an infamously strange bout of food poisoning from a room-service cheeseburger in the 2002 Western Conference finals.

His late-game effort will go into that list of remarkable moments, and it will rank among his best. After an awful shooting start, Bryant scored all of his fourth-quarter points in the final 5:56, including 11 straight as the Lakers took their first lead in a mean-spirited game between longtime rivals.

Bryant, newly christened the NBA's player of the month for February, led the way with a series of balletic moves, including a spinning layup and a 360-degree two-handed jam as Los Angeles pulled away.

When the MVP chants rained down from the stands amid boos, Bryant wasn't sure he heard correctly.

"It's better than hearing cowbells," Bryant said. "That was a trip. It felt great, though. I don't got to worry about nobody poisoning my burger now. I can eat in peace."

Lamar Odom added 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who remained percentage points behind the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference lead by holding the Kings scoreless for 4:07 during the fourth as Bryant rained in jumpers and free throws. Los Angeles scored 14 straight points in the span.

Kevin Martin and Ron Artest scored 23 points apiece for the Kings, who lost for the fifth time in six games despite 3½ solid quarters against their longtime nemeses. Brad Miller added 14 points and 12 rebounds while leading Sacramento's physical defensive plan against Bryant and the Lakers.

Getting tough nearly worked -- but Kobe just got tougher.

"He really stepped it up, really took it to the hole, really took it personally," said Gasol, who never won in Sacramento during all his years with Memphis. "We know what he's capable of doing. I know he can take over games. He's so gifted athletically and skill-wise. He's got a tremendous passion inside him. The way he attacked tonight, it was the kind of effort we need every night."

The longtime Pacific Division rivals curiously hadn't played each other this season, but they'll make up for it during four meetings over the Lakers' final 22 games. Sacramento, which has beaten Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas and New Orleans at home this season, came within a few minutes of another upset before Bryant took charge on offense and defensively against Martin, who didn't score in the fourth.

"Kobe is a great player down the stretch, and that's why he's on that level," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "Tough loss. We outplayed them for 40, 42 minutes. ... The Lakers did a good job in the last few minutes of locking down defensively. That's why they are who they are."

The Kings got physical with the Lakers from the opening tip, with Miller and Mikki Moore trading hard fouls with Gasol and Bryant before most fans had settled in their seats. Gasol then got a technical foul for taking a swipe at Miller in the third quarter after the Kings center used a stiff-arm to block out underneath the basket.

Moments later, Bryant was infuriated when an out-of-bounds call went against him, followed by a cherry-picking layup by Artest. Bryant swatted the ball into the crowd in frustration, and coach Phil Jackson called a timeout to calm down his agitated club.

A few possessions later, Derek Fisher landed an open-handed swipe on Miller's face as the center spun home an acrobatic layup. Miller also got a technical foul late in the quarter for arguing a no-call, but Sacramento built a 13-point lead.

Two nights after scoring 52 points against Dallas, Bryant saved his dramatics for the final minutes. After Sacramento never trailed in the first 43 minutes, the Lakers went ahead 101-100 on two free throws by Bryant with 4:04 to play as part of the decisive run.

Bryant got "more free throws than our team in the fourth quarter, and that makes it tough," Miller said. "And he was hitting them."

Fisher finished with 17 points, while John Salmons had 17 for the Kings.

Game notes
The Kings travel to Staples Center on Sunday, and the clubs meet two more times in 10 days in April. ... F Vladimir Radmanovic returned to the Lakers' lineup after missing five games with a strained right calf muscle. ... The Kings dropped to 0-8 against Pacific Division opponents.


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