Lakers 108, Wizards 84
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored an NBA season-high 55 points and broke a 43-year-old franchise record by scoring 42 in the first half to send his idol, Michael Jordan, and the Washington Wizards to a 108-84 loss tonight at a sold-out Staples Center.
Bryant, 25, hit 8 of 11 three-pointers and 14 of 19 shots overall in the opening two quarters -- at one point he scored 23 straight points in just more than five minutes -- to surpass Elgin Baylor's team record of 37 points in a half, set in 1960.
It was the third time this season that Bryant scored at least 50 points.
"Our game plan was to make [Bryant] take jump shots," the Wizards' Jerry Stackhouse said. "He took jump shots and he made them. He had a great game. If he doesn't make those shots, those are terrible shots. But he made them. We ran into a player that was unstoppable tonight."
Bryant's shooting display evoked memories of a younger Jordan, when he and the Chicago Bulls ruled the league. But Jordan, 40, may not have ever put on such a perimeter-shooting binge. In Jordan-like fashion, Bryant, who strung together nine consecutive games with 40 or more points in February, picked the brightest stage against the player he's most compared with for tonight's memorable performance.
Because of Bryant's point total this showcase likely will draw comparisons with Jordan's famed "double nickel" game against the New York Knicks shortly after he returned from his first retirement.
The celebrity-filled arena was packed for the retiring Jordan's last game in Los Angeles and, early on, Jordan was applauded at every turn, especially when he opened by making his first four shots. However, Bryant stole the show beginning midway through the first quarter when he scored on a fast-break layup to trim Washington's lead to 22-17.
He followed that with a three-pointer, a jumper, a layup and a quarter-ending three-pointer that brought the Lakers to 28-27 and his point total to 19. Jordan had 13 points and still retained the crowd's admiration as it gave him a minute-long standing ovation after a video tribute between quarters.
That's when Bryant took control and won over the crowd, who serenaded him with a chant of "M-V-P, M-V-P."
He opened the second quarter with four straight three-pointers to put the Lakers up 38-35. Bryant took turns hitting shots over Jerry Stackhouse (22 points), Bryon Russell, Bobby Simmons and Tyronn Lue (17 points, eight assists). Since Bryant took so many of his shots early within his team's offense, it was tough for Washington to send a defender to help in time.
Even when he did have a hand in his face, he was on such a roll, any shot attempt was automatic.
The only Wizards' defender assigned to him who didn't get any of Bryant's barrage was Jordan, once one of the league's most feared defenders. Not even in the rare instances where matchups called for him to switch defenders did Jordan find himself on Bryant. Instead, Jordan was left to defend the likes of Rick Fox or Devean George, who combined for five points.
Not having to chase, bump or potentially suffer any indignity at the hands of Bryant -- Bryant rarely guarded Jordan either -- allowed Jordan to finish with a team-high 23 points, and four assists. He had his moments, like a drive to the basket and the one-handed, double-clutch third quarter layup that got the Wizards to 79-61. There also was his breakaway dunk in the first period, which came after he intercepted a pass from Shaquille O'Neal (26 points, 13 rebounds) that was intended for Bryant.
Bryant's spectacular performance, at least for the night, superceded the fact that Washington, which hasn't won in Los Angeles against the Lakers since 1992, had its two-game winning streak snapped. The Wizards (34-38) still retained their half-game lead for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot over the Milwaukee Bucks, who lost at Utah. Los Angeles improved to 42-30.
It was Washington's third loss on its six-game Western Conference road trip, which will conclude Sunday in Denver.
"Our whole concern was we thought we were going to get overwhelmed in the paint, and Kobe was maginificent," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "That was as good a shooting performance as I've ever seen."