SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers realize every victory is important as they try to make the NBA playoffs.
On Saturday night, they shook off injuries and a poor defensive first quarter to claim a 103-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 17,317 at Sleep Train Arena.
The Lakers (38-36) remained tied for eighth place in the Western Conference standings. Utah defeated visiting Brooklyn to get to 38-36. The Jazz hold the tiebreaker between the Lakers.
The Kings (27-47) missed an opportunity to win their third straight game after scoring 37 points in the first quarter. Ultimately, a 17-3 run at the end of the third quarter gave the Lakers an insurmountable lead.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't worried about the first quarter.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," he said of the Kings. "I thought our defense was still pretty good, but we couldn't stop them. After that we upped it even more and did an unbelievable job for three quarters defensively."
The Lakers lost point guard Steve Nash (hamstring) less than two minutes into the game. However, Kobe Bryant took on added playmaking duties.
Bryant already was stepping into the role of injured starting small forward Ron Artest (left knee surgery) as D'Antoni started Jodie Meeks at shooting guard.
Bryant, who was hindered by bone spurs, could not find his normal shooting stroke and finished 5 of 17 from the field. Yet his all-around game did not suffer with a game-high 14 assists, eight rebounds and a key steal from Sacramento's Tyreke Evans to help Los Angeles protect a 100-98 lead in the final minute.
Bryant hit three free throws down the stretch to finish off a 48-minute, 19-point night. Actually. he missed 23 seconds of action.
In the process, Bryant moved into fourth place on the NBA's career scoring list, passing Wilt Chamberlain. Bryant has 31,435 points, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and Michael Jordan (32,292).
Bryant, who was raised in Italy, also grew up in the Philadelphia area, so there is special meaning to passing Chamberlain.
"What a journey," Bryant said, "a very, very long journey. I'm extremely appreciative for the Lakers Faithful and the Lakers Nation from being a 17-year old kid to a 34-year old man and all the support they've given me throughout my career."
Dwight Howard led the Lakers with 24 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in one of his most complete performances of the season.
Evans scored 21 points to lead six Kings in double figures. He added nine rebounds and six assists.
Bryant shook off the potential historical significance of this game being the final meeting at this arena. The city of Sacramento is in a battle with a group that is attempting to buy the franchise and move it to Seattle.
"No, it ain't," he said when asked about the potential of the game being the last for the Lakers in Sacrameto. "Y'all ain't going nowhere. Y'all be saying that for three years. I'm tired of hearing that. There are cowbells still in the building."
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but was disappointed the team couldn't make the most of its opportunities.
"We had a lot of opportunities down the stretch," he said. "We made some mistakes but I'm still proud of my team. Our effort was incredible."
NOTES: The Kings opened a five-game homestand. ... The Kings still rank as the NBA's highest-scoring team since the All-Star Game at 108.9 points per game. ... Sacramento ranked 29th in assists (19.7) before the All-Star break. Since the break, the Kings are tied for ninth (23.7). ... The Kings had defeated the Lakers the previous three meetings in Sacramento. ... Howard registered his 500th career double-double in his 688th game. The only active player to reach that number in as few games is San Antonio's Tim Duncan. ... Sacramento coach Keith Smart speaks highly of the acquisition of Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas. "The three guys have blended in seamlessly as far as their games as well as their personalities. And we're into focusing in on every game and trying to compete. If we become spoilers, while doing that, then so be it."