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01/27/2013 7:58 PM EST
Kobe leads Lakers past Oklahoma City 105-96
LA LAKERS 105, OKLAHOMA CITY 96

By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After every plot twist and dramatic turn in
the Los Angeles Lakers' soap opera of a season, perhaps their
stars' latest identity switches shouldn't be all that shocking.



Kobe Bryant made all the big passes. Steve Nash scored important
points down the stretch. Pau Gasol excelled off the bench as the
new-look Lakers calmly maintained a fourth-quarter lead on the
mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.



Bryant had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, Nash added
seven of his 17 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and the
Lakers held off the NBA-leading Thunder 105-96 Sunday.



Gasol scored 16 points in a reserve role as the Lakers picked up
the most impressive victory of their thoroughly unimpressive
season, coolly maintaining a small lead down the stretch of
their second straight win after a four-game skid.



With Bryant taking on a playmaking role, Nash stepping up his
offensive game and Dwight Howard preaching togetherness, the
19-25 Lakers are cautiously optimistic their latest reboot will
work - and even the Thunder were impressed.



"We're doing a good job right now of just being real with each
other and holding each other accountable," said Bryant, who had
14 assists and fell one rebound shy of a triple-double in each
of the past two games. "That makes a huge difference. I'm trying
to evolve and find out what we need as a ballclub."



So is everybody else with the Lakers, who had lost nine of their
last 11 against the defending Western Conference champion
Thunder, including four of five in the clubs' second-round
playoff series last spring and a blowout loss at Staples Center
16 days ago. The Lakers have strung together two solid games at
home since a clear-the-air team meeting in Memphis last week.



"We've found something that works, that's for sure, and
something we can feel good about," said Gasol, who played 36
minutes. "I think the way we are playing, we can be very
successful."



Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook had 17
points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the road-weary Thunder,
who finished their longest trip of the season at 3-3. Durant
could sense the Lakers' desperation in their fourth-quarter
effort.



"The whole arena felt that way," the three-time NBA scoring
champion said. "They needed a win. It was a must-win for them,
and they came out and performed well. They were hitting shots,
and they were doing a good job of protecting the paint. We
missed some good shots as well. As a group, we all have to do
our roles better. Every individual has to play their role to a T
for us to win games, but we'll be fine."



Bryant and Westbrook briefly tangled in the third quarter in an
exchange that earned a technical foul for Kobe. Both All-Star
guards entered the fourth quarter needing just one rebound for a
triple-double, but neither got it.



Westbrook missed his first eight shots and 12 of his first 13
before finding a rhythm, but the Lakers didn't wilt down the
stretch.



"The thought the execution at the end of the game by our team
definitely could have been better," Oklahoma City coach Scott
Brooks said. "It's something that we're pretty good at, but a
lot of that had to do with their team. They're a physical team,
and they were moving us around a little bit towards the end."



Los Angeles took the lead with 6:15 to play on a jumper by Metta
World Peace, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers
nursed a small advantage in the final minutes, going up 101-95
on Gasol's driving layup with 1:09 to play.



Bryant then hit a tough 19-foot jumper with 37 seconds left, and
Westbrook couldn't answer. Durant didn't have a field goal in
the final 6:39, scoring just seven points in the fourth quarter
of Oklahoma City's third loss in 11 games.



Oklahoma City routed the Lakers earlier this month, with Durant
scoring 42 points and Westbrook adding 27 while Los Angeles
played without Howard and Gasol.



Howard had just eight points and 10 rebounds this time out while
fighting foul trouble and missing eight of his 10 free throws.
Bryant and Nash led a passionate effort by the Lakers, whose
season-long missteps and embarrassments have left them well out
of the playoff picture heading into the second half of the
season.



"I'm very excited to see our progress," Howard said. "We're
going to continue to work, continue to talk to each other. The
biggest difference is we're holding each other accountable for
everything. We had a great talk in Memphis, and it's carried
over."



NOTES: The clubs conclude their season series in Oklahoma City
on March 5. ... Lakers owner Jerry Buss celebrated his 79th
birthday. The Basketball Hall of Famer hasn't attended a game
this season while dealing with health concerns. ... Derek
Fisher, the five-time champion Lakers guard who finished last
season with the Thunder, watched from a courtside seat. Denzel
Washington, Jay-Z, Alessandro Nivola, Horace Grant and baseball
stars Matt Kemp, Vernon Wells and Michael Young also sat
courtside.

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