The Lakers superstar totaled a blistering 41 points, knocking down five 3-pointers, and tallying 12 assists and six rebounds in L.A.’s 118-116 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
Bryant tied the game in regulation with a three-pointer with five seconds remaining, and slammed down a monstrous dunk with 10.6 left in overtime for an emphatic two points that put L.A. up for good.
Dwight Howard led the L.A. defense by tying his season-high of five blocks, with 24 points and 13 rebounds, while point guard Steve Nash scored 22 points, going 4-for-6 from three-point range.
Nash has now scored 20 or more points in two of L.A.'s last four games. Previously the veteran had scored 20 points just once as a Laker.
The win put the 32-31 Lakers over .500 for the first time since Nov. 20. L.A. is now tied record wise with the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed in the West, though Utah holds a 2-1 season series. A victory Sunday would put the Lakers ahead by one game and in the playoffs for the time being.
A thorn in L.A.’s side over the years has been quick, penetrating point guards, but they won’t have to worry about Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
The former MVP was cleared by team doctors to play earlier this week, but reportedly told Chicago he was not going to play until he could dunk off his left foot.
The 35-27 Bulls, led by All-Stars Joakhim Noah and Luol Deng, have done a tremendous job in Rose’s absence, but will need him if they hope to advance out of the first round of the playoffs.
Chicago helped the Lakers chances of making the postseason by defeating the Utah 89-88 Friday night.
Carlos Boozer and Marco Belinelli each scored 22 points and Noah ripped down 13 rebounds to go with his nine points. The Bulls overcame a poor shooting night by cleaning the glass for 21 offensive rebounds to Utah’s 17, and forced 14 Jazz turnovers.
The game begins at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast by ABC.
Prediction: The key matchup takes place down low, with Howard fending off Noah and Deng. Whoever controls the glass will have a distinct advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Chicago's offense will struggle, and Bryant and Nash will take over late for a Lakers victory.
Predicted Score: Los Angeles 102, Chicago 90