Coach Phil Jackson will need a whole lot more out of Bryant and his teammates when they head out on a late-season trip that will provide the final big test of their fitness to defend their NBA title.
Bryant scored 20 of his 24 points on a variety of jump shots during a dynamic second quarter, and Los Angeles sent the Wizards to their 11th straight loss, 99-92 on Sunday night.
Pau Gasol had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who won their sixth straight after a three-game skid. They had little trouble with woeful Washington in the first three quarters, jumping to a 26-point halftime lead after another memorable quarter by Bryant, who did all of his second-quarter scoring from at least 12 feet away, including three consecutive 3-pointers in the final moments.
In their first game since learning center Andrew Bynum will be out for at least two weeks with an injured Achilles' tendon, Bryant was feeling gracious about the Lakers' second-half lapses.
"We did a good job. I saw what I wanted to see," Bryant said. "We didn't close the game out the right way, but I liked what I saw. We didn't miss too many assignments defensively. We did a really good job."
Jackson didn't share his superstar's view, instead focusing on the Lakers' tendency to play down to the level of their opposition for long stretches. It's hardly a revolutionary problem in the six-month grind that is the NBA regular season, but Jackson wants more Wednesday night in San Antonio when his club opens a five-game trip including stops in Oklahoma City and Atlanta.
"It was an awful second half," Jackson said. "There was no intensity. We just didn't play with a fully functioning group of guys. ... It's just a late-season malaise. It's part of what players go through. By playing a lackadaisical game, they actually had to expend more energy."
Not Bryant. After hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in the final 5:25 before halftime alone, Bryant fell one point shy of matching Alex English for 12th place on the NBA's career scoring list when he scored just two points in the second half, watching the final minutes from the bench.
Gasol and Lamar Odom did most of the heavy lifting in the absence of Bynum, who was hurt in Friday's win over Minnesota. The Lakers' third-leading scorer (15.0) and rebounder (8.3) might be sidelined until shortly before the playoffs with his third significant injury in three years.
"It's an automatic consequence of Andrew being out," Gasol said of his intense work down low. "I have no problem with that, but obviously we want Andrew back as soon as possible."
Former USC guard Nick Young matched his season high with 22 points for the Wizards, who are two losses shy of tying the worst skid in franchise history, established in 1967 and matched in 1995. Al Thornton had 18 points, and Andray Blatche added 16 points and 12 rebounds as Washington wrapped up a four-game trip with its seventh straight loss to the Lakers.
"We've competed most of the time," Washington coach Flip Saunders said. "We get caught because sometimes we're undermanned or we get a little tired, but our guys haven't totally quit challenging. We've got to find a way to squeak out a win here somewhere, though. It doesn't get any easier, because we go home and then we're back on the road."
Bryant's perimeter accuracy propelled the Lakers on a 25-6 run to a 59-33 halftime lead. Bryant then shut it down in the second half, taking his only shot in the opening moments of the third quarter.
Washington outscored the Lakers 32-17 in the fourth to trim the margin of victory, including Young's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"It's been hard on me all year, and tonight was a great confidence-booster," Young said. "I just feel good coming back home and doing it in front of my family and friends. It's great."
Odom took Bynum's spot in the Lakers' starting lineup, getting four points and 13 rebounds. Ron Artest scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while Bynum's absence also meant 19 minutes for Josh Powell, who scored five points.
Los Angeles improved the Western Conference's best record to 52-18 with a league-best 32nd home victory. The Lakers lead Denver by five games in the conference standings with 12 to play.
Thornton played his first game back at Staples Center since the Clippers traded him on Feb. 17. ... The Lakers have just four regular-season home games left.