Bryant notched his 22nd 40-point game of the season in Friday’s 106-93 win at Seattle. He scored 24 of his 43 in the second half, including 10 in the final four minutes of the third quarter to help the Lakers break open the game.
“We had to have this one,” said Bryant, who went 17 of 38 from the field. “We’ve had losses and we don’t want them coming in bunches. We have to stop it right away.”
The Lakers are in seventh place in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of Sacramento for eighth and 2 1/2 games behind Memphis for sixth.
Bryant set a single-season career high for points with 2,499, and his next 40-point game will tie the franchise record of 23 established by Elgin Baylor in the 1962-63 season. Bryant, who is averaging a league-high 34.7 points, has three 40-point efforts in his last six games and three in 30 lifetime games against the Rockets.
While Bryant has seemingly scored at will this season, his team’s success often has relied on others contributing. In Friday’s victory, Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom each had double-doubles in points and rebounds, and the Lakers received 20 points from their bench.
Houston has won three of its last four games but is struggling to make up ground in the playoff race. The Rockets are 11th in the West, 4 1/2 games behind Sacramento with 10 to play.
The Rockets are coming off a 105-103 win Friday over Washington in which they shot 55.7 percent from the field. Yao Ming was the beneficiary of Washington’s surprising decision to not double-team him, and the 7-foot-6 center had 38 points and 11 rebounds.
“I was pretty surprised that a lot of times they didn’t double-team me,” Yao admitted. “I was rushing things early in the game and expecting them to double me.
“After that, I was trying to read the defense and when I saw that nobody was coming, I took my time. I liked that. I hope every night they do that.”
Yao is averaging 22.5 points overall and 27.4 in his last 19 games, scoring less than 20 points just once. He also has posted 15 of his 30 double-doubles during that span.
The Rockets have won their last two games at Staples Center, but the Lakers have won eight of their last 12 home games against them.