Pau Gasol scored 26 points, Kobe Bryant added 22 and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a sluggish start to beat the Sacramento Kings 122-104 Tuesday night and move within a half-game of Cleveland for the best record in the NBA.
Los Angeles fell behind by 12 points midway through the first quarter before finding its stride against the NBA's worst team and avenging a surprising loss earlier this season to the Kings at Arco Arena.
Losing again to Sacramento could have seriously damaged the Lakers' hopes for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles (62-16) still needs the Cavaliers (62-15) to lose at least once down the stretch to win the race. The Lakers hold the tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping the season series against Cleveland.
Lamar Odom added 15 points and 11 rebounds, Trevor Ariza scored 14 points and Gasol had 12 rebounds to go with his 11-for-16 shooting against overmatched Sacramento. Los Angeles has won four straight since losing back-to-back games in Charlotte and Atlanta.
Spencer Hawes had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Jason Thompson added 18 points and 11 boards, and Francisco Garcia scored 19 for the Kings (16-61), who lost their fifth straight game and have already set a franchise record for most losses in a season.
What once was a heated rivalry between the two California teams has cooled off in recent years as the Kings have fallen from a perennial contender to a lottery regular. There were many Lakers fans in attendance, chanting "M-V-P!" for Bryant throughout the game and booing a "Beat L.A.!" cheer from the Kings contingent.
After a first quarter in which the Lakers allowed Sacramento open looks on almost every trip, the game had little resemblance to those heated contests earlier in the decade.
Coach Phil Jackson was so disgusted after the Lakers blew most of a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter of an 88-85 win over the Clippers that he didn't take questions from reporters. He couldn't have been much happier with what he saw in the opening minutes against Sacramento.
The Kings came out firing, making 11 of their first 15 shots to open a 29-17 lead less than seven minutes into the game on a three-point play by Thompson. Sacramento then missed its next five shots but still took a 37-31 lead into the second quarter after Bobby Jackson's jumper with 4 seconds remaining.
The lead proved to be short-lived, as the Lakers tightened up defensively in the second quarter and the reserves took advantage of the Sacramento's shoddy zone defense. Los Angeles used runs of 10-0 with Bryant on the bench and then 12-0 with its star back in the game to open up a double-digit lead.
Shannon Brown's steal and layup in the closing seconds capped the 40-point quarter and gave the Lakers a 71-55 lead at the half. Brown, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Josh Powell scored 22 points combined off the bench in the quarter.
Lakers C Andrew Bynum did not make the trip to Sacramento but could return to the lineup later this week for the first time since tearing a right knee ligament on Jan. 31.
Kings leading scorer Kevin Martin missed his third straight game with a sore left ankle and is day-to-day.
Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and a former NBA All-Star, attended the game.