The Lakers hope to put some distance between themselves and the Denver Nuggets in the playoff standings when the teams meet in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Bryant reasserted himself as the league’s top scorer, overtaking Denver’s Carmelo Anthony with a binge of points over the last couple of weeks. Bryant reached 50 points in four straight games and hit that mark five times in his last seven games.
But after the Lakers (39-34) suffered back-to-back losses to Memphis and Houston last week, Bryant toned down his shooting as Los Angeles beat Sacramento 126-103 on Sunday, improving to 2-2 on a five-game homestand.
Bryant scored just 19 points, his lowest total since getting only 18 against Detroit on Feb. 8, but he dished out a season-high 13 assists in the Lakers’ easy victory.
“I like seeing my teammates being in a rhythm. I like seeing their confidence. I like seeing them smile,” Bryant said. “I don’t like to see them second-guessing themselves on their shots or hanging their heads.
“So tonight was a big game for them to try to get their confidence back and their swagger back a little bit.”
The Lakers shot a season-high 61.7 percent to win for the sixth time in eight games. Bryant took only 14 shots, two days after taking 44 in the overtime loss to the Rockets.
“The game was made a lot easier because we were making our shots, so the floor opens up,” Bryant said after his ninth double-double of the season. “It becomes extremely difficult to cover us and we pass the ball so well.”
Los Angeles is sixth in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place Denver (36-36). The Nuggets are wrapping up a three-game road trip after beating Seattle 114-103 on Sunday, snapping a three-game losing streak.
“I don’t like standings, especially where we’re at,” said Anthony, who scored 32 points. “We’re just trying to knock these games out.”
Anthony has scored 32 points in back-to-back games, but has seen his scoring average decrease to 29.1 points per game. Bryant is averaging 31.0 points.
Anthony also got plenty of help from his teammates in Sunday’s win. Allen Iverson scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half and the Nuggets shot 55.4 percent.
“We were somewhat in control of that game and I thought we fought with pride,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I feel we are close to breaking out and really playing well.”
Karl may miss Tuesday’s contest and Wednesday’s home game against Sacramento to be with his son Coby, who underwent surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes on Monday in Boise, Idaho. Coby Karl finished his collegiate career at Boise State this season third on the school’s all-time scoring list.
The Lakers and Nuggets meet again next Monday in Denver. The teams split the first two meetings, with each winning at home.
Bryant had only eight points in the Lakers’ win on Jan. 5, his lowest output in a full game since also scoring eight against Sacramento on April 11, 2004. He scored two points against Cleveland on Jan. 13, 2005, but left that game with a severely sprained ankle after playing only six minutes.