Lakers 93, Jazz 86
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Los Angeles Lakers got to celebrate the end of a nine-game road losing streak and something that’s much, much bigger.
“I was ready to play. Especially coming back to a challenge, playing on the road,” Bryant said. “Coming back on a home game is too easy.”
It certainly wasn’t easy Saturday. Bryant was booed nearly every time he touched the ball, jeered loudly every time he missed and was knocked down several times before gingerly getting up without putting much pressure on his right shoulder.
Bryant made his first shot and three of his next four to show that he was far from rusty despite sitting out since being injured Jan. 12. The Lakers sent Utah to its season-high fifth straight loss.
Bryant felt good during the team shootaround earlier in the day and was activated.
“I think we were truly energized by the return of Kobe. He helped us get going, shoot the ball well at the beginning of the game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He brought an energy and a cockiness to the game that gave them a confidence level that they hadn’t played with in the last two road games.”
The Lakers had last won on the road Dec. 4, beating Dallas 114-103.
Slava Medvedenko tied his career high with 26 points and Gary Payton scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that sealed it with 13 seconds remaining.
But the night belonged to Bryant, who finally gave the Lakers some good news regarding injuries.
“I’ve been ready to play for a while. Just waiting to get off the injured list,” Bryant said. “If it’s good enough to play, suit up and go.”
A healthy Bryant and Payton give the Lakers half of their Big Four that many expected at the beginning of the season to carry the Lakers to the NBA title. But the other half is still going to be out for a while.
Karl Malone, who’s out with a knee injury, didn’t travel with the Lakers for what would have been his first game in Utah since leaving the Jazz as a free agent last summer. Shaquille O’Neal (calf) is out until at least next week.
The Lakers don’t play again until Wednesday’s home game against Seattle.
“There’s a good possibility that we won’t have Shaquille, even though he has mouthed the fact that he’d like to come back on Wednesday,” Jackson said.
The Jazz, who fell below .500 for the first time this season at 21-22, have been hit just as hard by injuries, dressing just 10 players. Leading scorer Andrei Kirilenko missed his fourth straight with a sprained ankle.
Utah twice cut a 19-point lead to three, but couldn’t quite catch up.
“It’s tough to deal with the injuries, but you have to play with what you’ve got,” said Carlos Arroyo, who had 16 points and six assists for Utah.
Utah led several times in the first half and made two huge runs in the second half, including once in the final minutes.
Arroyo cut the Laker lead to 87-81, Jarron Collins made a free throw and Arroyo added two more from the line with 1:01 remaining to make it 87-84, but Medvedenko and Payton ended the Jazz comeback.
Medvedenko pulled in a rebound—one of his seven on the offense boards— and the ball got outside to Payton at the top of the arc and Payton made it a six-point game.