31-50, 11-30 Away
41-40, 25-16 Home

Kobe takes over in clutch as Lakers lock up playoff berth

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant had the touch, so he kept taking shots.

Bryant finished with 50 points on 18-of-25 shooting Sunday night to carry the Lakers to a 109-98 victory over Seattle that clinched a playoff spot for Los Angeles.

"We feel much better. We needed this type of win," Bryant said after the Lakers won for just the third time in 11 games.

Bryant said that when the playoffs begin, he may score a lot of points and he may not.

"If the jumper is on, we'll ride it out," he said. "If it's not, we'll have to find another way to win. Our defensive continuity is going to be our biggest challenge."

Phil Jackson, whose teams have never missed the playoffs in his 17 years as an NBA coach, said the Lakers still have a lot of work to do.

"I think there's a sigh of relief, but I do think they know that they have to improve their play, too," he said. "I've been telling them that if you're going to play and give away games at the end, it doesn't matter if you go into the playoffs.

"You're just going to be fodder for the teams that you have to play against."

The Lakers, who have one regular-season game remaining, at Sacramento on Wednesday night, will finish seventh or eighth in the Western Conference and face either Dallas or Phoenix in the first round.

Bryant scored 50 or more for the 10th time this season, the third-highest total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain's 45 times with 50 or more in 1961-62, and Chamberlain's 30 times the following season.

Bryant has reached the 50-point plateau 21 times in his career.

Seattle coach Bob Hill smiled and said the Sonics "stressed" defending Bryant for the entire game, and "forced him to score 50 points."

"He was brilliant. He was just determined. He's special," Hill said.

The Lakers, in the habit lately of blowing late leads, lost all but one point of their once-substantial margin against the Sonics. Seattle, behind by 19 points in the first half, narrowed the margin to 87-86 midway through the final quarter. But Bryant then scored eight points as Los Angeles opened a 99-89 lead with three minutes remaining.

The only other Lakers to finish in double figures were Lamar Odom, with 14 points, and Maurice Evans, with 10.

Rashard Lewis scored 24 for Seattle, Chris Wilcox had 20 and Mike Wilks had a career-high 22.

The Los Angeles Clippers' 105-100 loss to Sacramento on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center meant the Lakers had only to win one of their remaining two games to make the postseason. The Clippers and Golden State Warriors are still contending for the final Western Conference playoff berth. The Lakers have the tiebreaker over both of those teams.

Los Angeles center Kwame Brown, who sat out the past six games with a sprained left ankle and has missed 41 games because of injuries this season, played 27 minutes and scored three points.

Seattle never led and was down 46-27 in the second quarter before beginning to chip away at the lead. Although Bryant scored 18 points in the third quarter, Lewis' 12 helped keep Seattle within striking distance at 81-74 heading into the fourth.

The Sonics are injury-depleted, losing Ray Allen, Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour to ankle injuries.

"As we talked about before the game, they (the Lakers) had to win," Hill said. "I thought we played great, and we didn't have anybody."

Los Angeles rookie Jordan Farmar got his first NBA start, in place of Smush Parker. Parker didn't start for the first time since the Lakers acquired him before the 2005-2006 season, a span of 162 games.

Farmar on three occasions in recent weeks played a personal doubleheader, playing with the Lakers' developmental team in the afternoon and joining the NBA team for a night game.

This time, playing just one game, he had nine points in 28 minutes. Parker began the second quarter and finished with four points in 20 minutes.

"I found out this morning I wasn't starting, and I wasn't surprised," Parker said. "The coach made a decision and I'm going to be professional about it and continue to work hard and do whatever it takes to help this team win."

Farmar said, "I like the way I played. I feel good about my game."

Game notes
The Lakers have made the playoffs 43 times in their 47 seasons in Los Angeles after moving from Minnesota. ... Jackson, asked about F Luke Walton's freshly close-cropped haircut, quipped that Walton was in a look-a-like contest: "He wants to look like Britney Spears."