12:30 PM ET, April 13, 2008
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers took sole possession of the Western Conference lead Sunday. One more win and they're assured of keeping it.
MVP candidate Kobe Bryant had 20 points, five rebounds and five assists before sitting out the fourth quarter, and the Lakers routed the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs 106-85 for their seventh win in eight games.
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"It was a big game for us," Bryant said. "It was another step in the right direction. Going into the playoffs is all about momentum. Now, we just have to take it up another notch once the playoffs start."
The Lakers (56-25), who clinched their first Pacific Division championship in four years and at least the No. 3 seed in the West on Friday night, will win the conference title if they beat the visiting Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
The Lakers went home after Sunday's game uncertain of their status because the Houston Rockets had a chance to overtake them for the conference title by winning their final three games because they hold the tie-breaker should the teams finish in a tie. But the Rockets (54-26) lost to Denver 111-94 Sunday night.
So if the Lakers beat the Kings, they're assured of finishing ahead of everybody in the West except New Orleans, which could only tie them. And Los Angeles wins the tie-breaker over the Hornets by virtue of a better conference record.
That would mean home-court advantage in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
"It's still our responsibility to finish this the right way," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "And that was our message in the locker room after the game. Fortunately for us, we got some rest, got some guys who had a little bit of time to recover before Tuesday night."
Lamar Odom, the only Los Angeles starter to play in the final period, added 17 points and 14 rebounds before coming out for good with 4:26 remaining. Pau Gasol had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Derek Fisher also scored 14, Jordan Farmar added 11 points and Ronny Turiaf scored 10 for the Lakers, who outscored the Spurs 53-32 in the second half.
"They're the best in the West at this point," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Their rhythm is good, everybody knows their roles, they are playing confidently, defense looks very good. Heck of a team."
The Lakers outrebounded San Antonio 51-36, including 31-16 after halftime, and the Spurs shot just 11-of-37 after halftime after going 22-of-42 in the opening 24 minutes.
"What a half. We came out and played an exceptional second half," Jackson said. "We were on our heels at the end of the first half, [Tony] Parker was jamming the ball down our throat and we couldn't seem to find a way to stop him. I thought the second half we came out and made a good defensive stand and stopped penetration."
Bryant said he believes the Lakers have found their defensive identity.
"It's just like offense," he said. "You have to find out what your identity is. I think we have found that defensively. We are very aggressive. We have a tremendous amount of versatility -- wings and bigs who are fast and athletic and long. We can get after guys."
Parker had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but was held to two points after halftime. Tim Duncan added 16 points and 12 rebounds and Ime Udoka scored 14 for the Spurs (54-26), who lost for just the third time in 13 games.
"Come playoff time, we'll have as good a chance as anybody to do well," Popovich said.
The game was tied at 53 at halftime. Fisher scored 10 points during a 17-6 run to start the third period, giving the Lakers a 70-59 lead, and the Spurs weren't closer than seven after that.
Bryant scored seven points in the last 2 1/2 minutes of the quarter, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, to make it 79-67 entering the final period. The Spurs missed their first seven field-goal attempts of the third quarter and wound up going 3-for-17 in the period.
The Lakers put the game away by outscoring the Spurs 19-5 to start the fourth quarter for a 98-72 lead.
"We haven't played well in about three, four, five games now," Duncan said. "We've just have got to find a way to make some shots."
The teams split the season series 2-2. ... Popovich said he's counting on Ginobili being available when the playoffs begin, but he's not sure about the final two regular-season games -- Monday night at Sacramento and Wednesday night at home against Utah. "We're better off to be a lower seed with a healthy Manu than a higher seed without a healthy Manu," Popovich said. ... Asked about a potential Lakers-Celtics matchup in the NBA finals, Jackson said: "Maybe some people would roll over in their graves and reappear. It is a nostalgia thing, of course." The Celtics have an 8-2 record when the teams have met in the finals. It hasn't happened since 1987. ... Bryant's two young daughters, with an assist from his wife, held up a sign saying: "Daddy for MVP."
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||33-79 (.418)||41-82 (.500)|
|3PM-3PA||5-17 (.294)||10-19 (.526)|
|FTM-FTA||14-24 (.583)||14-17 (.824)|
|Fast Break Points||13||11|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||16 (1/0)||15 (2/0)|