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Bryant scores 21 in Lakers' victory

The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The prescription for Kobe Bryant's return from Achilles tendon surgery might not have called for playing 32 minutes on back-to-back nights and in three games in four nights.

But that's what Bryant has done, and on Tuesday night at FedExForum he held up well enough to match his season high with 21 points as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 96-92.

"You've gotta crank it up at some point," Bryant said after shooting 50 percent from the floor (9-of-18) in his sixth game back from injury.

Bryant took only one 3-point shot - a 28-footer with 2:39 left in the game, with the Lakers leading by three points and Grizzlies guard Tony Allen up in his face. The shot went down for a 91-85 lead that essentially settled things. But had Bryant missed, critics likely would have said he forced it.

"I think after 30,000 points, you could get a break," Bryant said with a smile.

Bryant said he hyperextended his knee late in the game, but proclaimed himself "fine." When he came out of the game in the first half, he went back to the locker room for therapy and stretching.

"This was a big game in terms of being able to tell what my body can do," he said.

The Lakers (12-13) split their four-game road trip, and they are 2-4 since Bryant's return. Center/forward Pau Gasol also scored 21 points (9-for-12 from the field) with nine rebounds, and guard Nick Young had 18 points off the bench. Guard Jodie Meeks scored 13.

"It makes a big difference (having Bryant back)," Young said. "Especially when he's in his groove."

Memphis (10-14) lost its fourth in a row and its home record fell to 5-10. The Grizzlies already have lost more home games than they did all of last season when they finished a franchise-best 32-9 home record. Already without Pau's younger brother, All-Star center Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies played Tuesday without point guard and leading scorer Mike Conley (thigh bruise).

"(Jerryd) Bayless is a good guy, but he's not Mike Conley," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They missed him."

The Grizzlies fell behind by 15 points late in the first quarter, and it took until late in the third quarter for them to battle back and gain a brief one-point lead.

The score was tied 67-67 going into the fourth. The Lakers went up by 11, 84-73, with 7:30 to play when Young buried a 3-pointer despite tight defense from Allen. The Grizzlies cut the lead to three a couple of times, the last time just before Bryant's 3-pointer. They never drew closer.

"Every game we're coming out and getting down," said Memphis power forward Zach Randolph, who had a double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds, plus five assists. "It takes a lot of energy to get back. It's hurt us."

Allen, who scored a season-high 16 points with seven rebounds and five assists, said, "Kobe looked great today. Pau was big down the stretch. They played the one-two game."

Bayless and forward Jon Leuer each finished with 13 points and rookie point guard Nick Calathes scored a career-high 10 points for the Grizzlies.

Pau Gasol scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter, 11 in the second half on 5-for-6 shooting.

"As far as who could guard Pau, we weren't very effective," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. "He's just too big and too skilled."

Because of injuries, the Lakers have been playing without a true point guard for a while. Gasol sometimes has seemed dismayed that the ball has not come his way. But he has scored 14 or more points in five straight games and the Lakers fed him on Tuesday.

"When you get several looks in the post and have that confidence," Gasol said, "you get in a rhythm."

NOTES: Memphis PG Mike Conley, who missed the game after suffering a left thigh bruise in Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, is averaging a career-best and team-leading 18.2 points and a team-high 6.3 assists. With C Marc Gasol (left MCL sprain) out indefinitely, the Grizzlies were leaning on Conley. "Mike is co-hardest to replace (with Gasol)," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. ... Coming into Tuesday's game, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant played a good bit of point guard in his first five games back from Achilles tendon surgery. Bryant was averaging 12.4 points with 6.8 assists and 6.0 turnovers, but coach Mike D'Antoni said he didn't sense any frustration from Bryant. "He's very in tune to where he is and how he's progressing," D'Antoni said. ... Memphis called up F James Johnson from the NBA Development League. In 219 previous NBA games, Johnson averaged 6.3 points and 3.2 rebounds. He was averaging 18.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in 10 D-League games.
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