Bryant shrugged off his ailing shoulder Saturday and took over the game when he sensed the Lakers were in trouble, scoring 12 of his 35 points in the final five minutes in an 88-81 win over the Chicago Bulls.
“I made some pretty big shots for us,” Bryant said. “I just think about how fun it is to be out there playing the game. I didn’t think about the pain.”
The All-Star guard had scored a combined 34 points on 10-of-36 shooting in his first two games after sitting out a pair due to the shoulder injury.
Bryant, a two-time all-defensive team selection, now must help the Lakers contain McGrady.
McGrady has been one of the league’s hottest players. He scored 62 points Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, the NBA’s highest total in almost a decade. In Orlando’s 108-99 win, he had 50 points by late in the third quarter.
McGrady followed that up with 40 points in a 115-101 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics on Saturday. He has scored at least 40 points in consecutive games six times in his career.
Shaquille O’Neal had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers on Saturday, passing Hal Greer for 21st place on the career scoring list with 21,591 points.
Karl Malone, in his second game back since missing 39 with a knee injury, had 10 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers.
It won’t matter how many points McGrady scores if the Magic can’t stop anybody on defense. Orlando allowed Seattle to shoot 56 percent, including 50 percent (14-for-28) from 3-point range.
“You have to have an awareness, an alertness not to hug up to your man. It’s called team defense, not just stop your guy,” Magic coach Johnny Davis said. “We’ve got to do a much better job at it.”
Magic forward Drew Gooden returned after a three-game absence because of a staph infection on his right leg. He was 1-for-6 from the field and scored four points in 20 minutes.
STANDINGS (through March 13): Magic - 7th place, 23 GB, Atlantic Division. Lakers - 2nd place, 5 1/2 GB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Magic - McGrady, 28.2 ppg and 5.4 apg; Howard, 7 rpg. Lakers - Bryant, 22.5 ppg; O’Neal, 10.9 rpg; Payton, 5.8 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Lakers, 1-0.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Magic - 9-25 on the road; Lakers - 24-5 at home.