SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—The Los Angeles Lakers know that playing the Phoenix Suns might not be any easier than a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. That doesn’t mean they weren’t looking for a rematch.
Kobe Bryant gave them what they wanted, scoring 34 points and keying a big third-quarter run that helped the Lakers sew up the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 117-104 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
The season-ending win sets up another first-round meeting with the Suns, who overcame a 3-1 deficit to knock out Los Angeles in seven games in the opening round a year ago. Game 1 of the series will be Sunday in Phoenix.
“Obviously as a basketball player and a competitor, if a team knocks you out of the playoffs, you want a chance to get your revenge,” forward Luke Walton said. “It wasn’t like we were looking to play any one of them, but it will be nice to get that opportunity.”
The Lakers went 1-3 against the Phoenix this season and have lost 10 of the last 12 regular-season meetings with the Suns. The Lakers could have dropped to eighth place with a loss, which would have set up a date with the Mavericks.
Bryant wrapped up his second straight scoring title as well, averaging 31.6 points this season. He became the first Lakers player to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons since George Mikan did it three years in a row back when the team was in Minneapolis. Mikan won his first of three straight titles in 1948-49.
“It’s always a sense of accomplishment because there are so many great basketball players in the NBA,” Bryant said. “It’s always fun to be on the top of that list.”
The Kings (33-49) finished their worst season since going 27-55 in 1997-98, which was the team’s 13th straight losing season since moving from Kansas City to Sacramento. Sacramento then made it to the playoffs in next eight years under coach Rick Adelman, but failed in its first season with Eric Musselman at the helm.
Musselman will meet later this week with Kings president Geoff Petrie amid rumors that his job is in jeopardy. Musselman said his focus was on the offseason and said he expected to be back for the second year of his three-year deal.
“He’s my coach right now, so I definitely want him to be here and everybody on the team wants him to be here,” guard Kevin Martin said. “We just have to see how the summer goes.”
Bryant scored 14 points in the third quarter, including the first six in a 17-2 run that gave the Lakers a 73-63 lead midway through the period. Los Angeles capped the spurt with two big dunks—the first a breakaway by Lamar Odom off a feed from Bryant and the second on an alley-oop from Jordan Farmar to Kwame Brown.
Martin tried to keep the Kings close, scoring 12 points in the period, including a four-point play when he made a 3-pointer and drew a foul from Bryant. But Sacramento still trailed 88-80 heading into the final quarter.
Even with playoff seeding on the line, Bryant sat out much of the fourth quarter. But the Lakers held on without their star, getting five straight points from Smush Parker after Sacramento had cut the lead to four midway through the quarter and coasting to the win.
Brown, starting his second straight game after missing six with a sprained left ankle, had 17 points for the Lakers. Odom added 15 points and 13 rebounds as the Lakers ended the season with two straight wins after losing eight of 10 to put their postseason status in doubt.
“I felt pretty good and they were undersized,” said Brown, who was guarded at times by the much shorter Ron Artest. “Kobe’s penetration opened it up and made it easy for us. All we had to do was let Kobe come off the ball and they all went right to him.”
“We just couldn’t get over the top,” Salmons said. “We had a lot of stretches where it looked like we were going to make the push but for some reason we couldn’t.”
Bibby scored 14 points in the first 6:35 of the game—matching the Lakers’ total at that juncture. He shot 7-for-10 in the first quarter and consistently took advantage of Farmar, who started his second career game in place of Parker.
Bibby sat out the entire second quarter and the Kings went into the half leading 57-53.
Bibby was the only Kings player to play in all 82 games and has done so in three of the past four seasons. … After a foul late in the fourth quarter a fan picked up the ball and shot an airball from his front-row seat. Artest fed him for another chance and the fan once again failed to hit the rim. … Parker didn’t start for the second straight game after starting his first 162 with the Lakers. … The Kings finished the season 20-21 at Arco Arena, the first time they had a losing record at home since 1993-94.