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03/31/2013 1:49 AM EDT
Kobe Bryant leads Lakers past Kings, 103-98
LA LAKERS 103, SACRAMENTO 98

By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
AP Sports Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Kobe Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain
for fourth place on the NBA's scoring list, then put on one of
the best passing performances of his storied career.



Bryant scored 19 points and tied a season high with 14 assists
despite a nagging left foot injury, and the Los Angeles Lakers
kept pace for the Western Conference's final playoff spot by
outlasting the Sacramento Kings 103-98 on Saturday night.



"My foot's (messed) up, but other than that, I feel great," he
said, chuckling.



Bryant added nine rebounds and facilitated the Lakers' offense
for 47 minutes, 37 seconds after Steve Nash exited early in the
first quarter with a recurring right hamstring injury. He helped
Los Angeles tie a season low with seven turnovers.



"I thought that was key - those 23 seconds. Otherwise he
would've been tired," coach Mike D'Antoni said, sarcastically.
"He just looked at me and said, `I'm not coming out tonight.'
Sounds good to me."



With Bryant engineering the offense, Los Angeles showed some of
its best ball movement of the season.



Dwight Howard had 24 points and 15 rebounds, Pau Gasol added 12
points and 10 assists and three others scored in double figures
for the Lakers (38-36), who stayed even with Utah (38-36) for
the eighth and final playoff seed. Los Angeles hosts 10th-place
Dallas (36-37) in a critical tilt Tuesday night.



Even with the pressure of a playoff race, Bryant was all smiles
in a cramped quarter of Sacramento's visiting locker room. He
had met Chamberlain when he was about 8 years old in
Philadelphia and long held the Lakers legend in higher esteem
than some milestones he's reached because of the franchise
connection.



"He was like Conan the Barbarian," Bryant said. "That was the
most impressive thing to me. He was just a warm-hearted
gentleman."



Bryant's latest performance proved too much for the Kings again.



Tyreke Evans had 21 points and nine rebounds, and DeMarcus
Cousins added 19 points and 11 rebounds but missed a pair of
difficult 3-pointers in the final seconds to seal Sacramento's
latest loss. The Lakers won the season series 3-1.



"I guess you can't really talk bad about the way these guys
competed," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "I thought our guys did
everything they could from a statistical standpoint outside of
winning the basketball game."



At least until the closing moments.



Bryant slipped a pass to Gasol for a fast-break dunk - and his
13th assist - to put Los Angeles ahead 98-93 with 4:52
remaining. Gasol also tossed an alley-oop to Howard just before.



Cousins followed with a free throw and a long jumper, and Evans
added a layup to slice the Lakers' lead to two. After Bryant
missed a jumper, Jodie Meeks stripped Evans on a layup attempt
at the other end. Bryant hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the
Lakers ahead 101-98 with 24 seconds remaining, giving Sacramento
one last chance.



Howard blocked Cousins' 3-point attempt. After pleading with the
official for a foul, Cousins got the ball back and he forced a
3-point miss before Bryant's final free throws sealed
Sacramento's latest loss.



"The play wasn't for me. I was supposed to hand it off," Cousins
said. "But I got hit in my lower groin and it kind of screwed up
the play."



Los Angeles lost Nash with a strained right hamstring just 1:48
into the game. D'Antoni patted Nash on the back before the point
guard walked gingerly to the locker room and never returned.
Nash is day to day.



Sacramento surged ahead 37-25 after the first quarter with a
frenetic pace that often left the Lakers' frontline in the
backcourt. The Kings, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best
108.9 points since the All-Star break, made 15 of their first 21
from the floor.



Sacramento held Bryant scoreless until he hit a pair of free
throws with 8:50 remaining in the second quarter. The shots
sparked Bryant and the Lakers late in the half, along with a
larger-than-normal sprinkling of Los Angeles fans sporting
purple and gold throughout the announced sellout crowd of
17,317.



Bryant made a pull-up jumper from the free throw line with 7:54
remaining in the second quarter to eclipse Chamberlain's mark of
31,419 points. The only three ahead of him now is Michael Jordan
(32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).



Asked if Abdul-Jabbar's record is obtainable for him, Bryant
said "I don't see it happening" unless he decides to play longer
than planned.



"What a journey," said Bryant, in his 17th season. "It's been a
very, very long journey. I'm certainly extremely appreciative of
all the support of the Laker faithful, the Laker Nation."



Bryant had a bone spur in his left foot that has bothered him
for several games. The injury apparently is unrelated to his
sprained left ankle, which occurred earlier in Atlanta, though
he said the soreness all sort of blends together.



With his foot stiffening up when he sits, Bryant came out for
just 23 seconds.



Bryant finished a thunderous dunk down the lane and added two
free throws and a pair of assists, rallying the Lakers back with
a 14-1 run to close the third quarter. Los Angeles led 82-75
entering the fourth.



The Kings had scored at least 100 points in 20 of the previous
23 games, including 11 straight at home. With a possible move to
Seattle the latest relocation threat for the Kings, Bryant
didn't think he had played his last game in Sacramento.



"I predict we'll be back here," Bryant said. "You guys have been
saying the same (thing) for three years."



NOTES: Bryant's career high is 15 assists against Washington on
Feb. 12, 2002. ... Cousins was called for a technical foul in
the second quarter for slamming his hand on the scorer's table
after officials whistled teammate Jason Thompson for a foul. ...
Kings F James Johnson rejoined the team but sat out his eighth
straight game because of personal reasons.

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