LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Lakers got one of their injured big men back Wednesday night. They hope the other isn’t too far behind.
Pau Gasol had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists in his first game in nearly three weeks, and the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-91 for their second straight win after a pair of losses to two of the NBA’s weaker teams.
Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, and also had 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers (51-24), who trail New Orleans by 1 1/2 games and San Antonio by one game in the Western Conference standings. The Hornets have eight games left, the Lakers and Spurs seven each.
“I think he looked great,” Bryant said of Gasol. “He looked good yesterday in practice and he played extremely well tonight.”
Gasol played nearly 32 minutes, far more than expected, in his first game since he sprained his left ankle March 14 in the first quarter of a 108-98 loss at New Orleans.
“We were going to go by feel and see how the ankle was feeling out there, and no complaints,” he said. “I wanted to be there. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot more than this and my main focus is always try to help the team win.”
Gasol admitted to feeling limited, and the swelling in his ankle was definitely noticeable afterward.
“That’s the way professional sports are,” he said. “It’s a little sore, let’s see how it feels tomorrow morning. But I’m excited. I’m happy I was able to go out there and really contribute. feel satisfied, really happy to be our there. We got a nice win.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game he hoped Gasol would be able to play between 16 and 25 minutes.
“It was OK,” Jackson said of the 7-foot center’s performance. I thought he had a lot of kinks in the game. His passing wasn’t sharp and he didn’t go get the ball the way you want to see him get the ball, but his height bothered (LaMarcus) Aldridge. He did a good job defensively on him.”
The Lakers were 5-4 in Gasol’s absence after going 15-4 in his first 19 games after Los Angeles acquired him from Memphis.
Derek Fisher scored 13 points, Lamar Odom had 12 points and eight rebounds, and Vladimir Radmanovic and Jordan Farmar added 10 points each for the Lakers, who have been without Andrew Bynum since he injured his left knee Jan. 13 against Memphis. They hope Bynum will return before the regular season ends April 15.
Brandon Roy, averaging a team-leading 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists, missed his third straight game because of a strained right groin. The Blazers lost all three, and will need to win four of their last seven games to finish with a winning record for the first time since the 2002-03 season—the last time they made the playoffs.
“We want to come out with a winning record,” Outlaw said.
The Lakers outscored Portland 19-9 to start the second half for a 69-59 lead, and the Blazers weren’t closer than six points after that. It was 73-63 entering the final period.
Farmar scored six points and Bryant added five during a 13-5 run to start the fourth quarter, giving Los Angeles an 86-68 lead. The Blazers fought back, outscoring the Lakers 13-2 to draw within seven points, but Bryant scored seven in a span of 31 seconds to make it 95-81 and clinch the victory.
“They turned up the pressure in the third quarter,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Their pressure forced our offense out, and then in the fourth quarter when we were able to get close, Kobe made shots in key situations.”
Neither team led by more than five points in the second quarter, which ended with the teams tied at 50. The Blazers led 31-26 after the opening period, but were outscored 78-60 after that.
The Lakers complete a five-game homestand Friday night against Dallas. They lost the first two games, to Charlotte (28-47) and Memphis (20-55) before beating Washington (38-37) and Portland (38-37). They play road games against Sacramento, Portland and the Clippers before finishing with three home games. … McMillan said Roy will miss at least one more game before possibly returning against the Lakers next Tuesday. … The Lakers have won 12 of their last 14 games against the Blazers in Los Angeles. They have lost five straight and 11 of their last 13 in Portland. … The Lakers have reached 50 wins for the 29th time in franchise history, and have a magic number of one to reach the playoffs for the 55th time in 60 seasons.