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'Eternally optimistic' Kobe Bryant scores 35 in third-to-last game

HOUSTON -- In the third-to-last game of his storied career, Kobe Bryant nearly matched his age in the box score Sunday, when the 37-year-old Los Angeles Lakers icon scored 35 points in a 130-110 loss to the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center.

It marked the second-highest point total for Bryant in his 20th and final season. He scored 38 points on Feb. 2 in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

Although Bryant has largely struggled this season, he said he wasn't too surprised about his scoring outburst against the Rockets, in which he made 10 of 22 shots, including four of 11 from 3-point range and all 11 of his free-throw attempts.

"I'm eternally optimistic," Bryant said. "I think the jump shot was falling. The legs felt good. And then you have nights like this. But it wouldn't be something that surprised me."

Bryant played about 27 minutes and will face the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday. He closes his career Wednesday against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.

"What can you say? The man was unbelievable at times," Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Bryant's performance against the Rockets. "Sometimes you just sit there and marvel the way he is able to play this game at a high level after 20 years of basketball. Single-handedly, along with [Jordan Clarkson], he kept us in the game."

Clarkson scored 21 points for the Lakers, who fell to 16-64.

"When he gets like that, there's really nothing you can do, when his legs are under him," said Rockets swingman Trevor Ariza, a former Lakers teammate of Bryant's. "I remember my first ever game playing against him, he had 40, and my last one he had 35, so I guess I got a little bit better."

Rockets guard James Harden, who scored a game-high 40 points, said his final game against Bryant is "something I will remember for the rest of my life."

"It was phenomenal just how his game has evolved," Rockets guard Patrick Beverley said of Bryant. "Kobe has gotten older, of course, and for him to continue to prove himself in different levels of the game of basketball is really mind-boggling.

"That's something that, if you're not a basketball player, and if you're not really in it, it's really hard to understand to play against Michael [Jordan] in that area, to have come and have his own era, and then to come into the Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that era, and still to play at a high level -- that is phenomenal."

Metta World Peace also lauded Bryant.

"He's been 20 years in the NBA, and now the Black Mamba is going home to be with his family, and I'm happy for him," World Peace said. "I'm excited that he's going home after a 20-year career and going home to be with his family and his children and his wife and just do good things, family things, like wake up in the morning, cook breakfast, take the kids to school, go watch the kids play soccer, go to the movies and just do regular stuff. That's what I am excited for."