Lakers Remain on Cavs' Heels

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

Lamar Odom had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Kobe Bryant added 18 points and the Los Angeles Lakers edged the Clippers 88-85 Sunday night to remain a game behind Cleveland for the NBA's best record.

The Lakers' 61st victory was listless against a team that trails them by 43 games in the Western Conference. But they did just enough to win their third in a row, improve to 33-5 at home and assert themselves as the dominant tenant at Staples Center.

The Lakers have already clinched home-court advantage through the Western Conference finals, but with five games remaining, still have a shot at edging the Cavaliers to earn home-court throughout the NBA finals. The Lakers already own the tiebreaker, having beaten LeBron James & Co. twice.

Eric Gordon scored 24 points, Zach Randolph added 18 points and 10 rebounds and Brian Skinner grabbed 13 rebounds for the Clippers, who've lost five in a row and 12 of their last 15.

Trailing 81-62 in the fourth - their third 19-point deficit - the Clippers scored 16 in a row, including eight by Fred Jones, to close to 81-78 with 2½ minutes remaining.

Bryant stopped the run, but just barely, as his first free throw spun and bounced around before going down. He made the second and the Lakers clung to an 83-78 lead.

But Jones hit a floating jumper to get the Clippers within three. Bryant's 3-point attempt bounced off the rim, the Clippers snagged the rebound, then Odom fouled Gordon. The rookie made both and the Clippers trailed 83-82 with 1:09 to play.

Pau Gasol's driving layup and another pair of free throws by Bryant kept the Lakers ahead 87-82. Gasol finished with 14 points.

Gordon hit a 3-pointer that drew the Clippers to 87-85 with 5 seconds to go.

Derek Fisher got fouled and missed the first one with the crowd on its feet. He made the second, helped by some body English, for an 88-85 lead.

After a timeout, Steve Novak inbounded to Baron Davis with Trevor Ariza closely guarding him. Davis' jumper went off the rim as time expired.

The Lakers hardly lit it up, shooting 42 percent (33-of-78) for the game. Bryant and Odom both missed pairs of free throws in the third quarter, when the Clippers twice got within five points.

But with Randolph and Davis each picking up their third fouls around the same time, the Lakers closed the quarter on an 11-4 run to lead 68-56 going into the fourth. Odom hit a 3-pointer and benefited on a goaltending call against Skinner, while Bryant scored the Lakers' final three points.

The Lakers led by 13 in the opening quarter and extended their advantage to 19 early in the second. From there, the Clippers used a 27-18 run to close to 54-44 at halftime. Gordon scored 11 points in the spurt.

The Lakers could be getting Andrew Bynum back this week. He's been out since tearing a right knee ligament on Jan. 31 at Memphis. The third-year center will work out again Monday, but won't travel with the team to Sacramento for its game Tuesday.

"There's an outside chance he'll be activated by week's end,"
coach Phil Jackson said before the game. "He looks good;
physically, he's strong."

Notes:

The Clippers were without Marcus Camby (sprained left ankle), Chris Kaman (flu), Ricky Davis (sore left knee), and Mardy Collins (right foot plantar fascitis). Al Thornton and Novak played despite foot and ankle injuries, respectively.

Fisher left with a sore left foot late in the first quarter, but returned to start the second half.

The Lakers completed a four-game season sweep.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got a standing ovation on the 25th anniversary of him passing Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA's career scoring leader.

Center fielder Torii Hunter took in the game on the eve of the Angels' season opener. When the arena's kiss cam zoomed in on actors Kate and Oliver Hudson, she laughed and he leaned in to air kiss his sister's cheek.


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