Kobe leads Lakers past Oklahoma City 105-96
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and center Dwight Howard (12) celebrate their 105-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — After every plot twist and dramatic turn in the Los Angeles Lakers' soap opera of a season, perhaps their stars' latest identity switches shouldn't be all that shocking.
Kobe Bryant made all the big passes. Steve Nash scored important points down the stretch. Pau Gasol excelled off the bench as the new-look Lakers calmly maintained a fourth-quarter lead on the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.
Bryant had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, Nash added seven of his 17 points in the final 5½ minutes, and the Lakers held off the NBA-leading Thunder 105-96 Sunday.
Gasol scored 16 points in a reserve role as the Lakers picked up the most impressive victory of their thoroughly unimpressive season, coolly maintaining a small lead down the stretch of their second straight win after a four-game skid.
With Bryant taking on a playmaking role, Nash stepping up his offensive game and Dwight Howard preaching togetherness, the 19-25 Lakers are cautiously optimistic their latest reboot will work — and even the Thunder were impressed.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (20) is fouled by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. The Lakers won 105-96. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
"We're doing a good job right now of just being real with each other and holding each other accountable," said Bryant, who had 14 assists and fell one rebound shy of a triple-double in each of the past two games. "That makes a huge difference. I'm trying to evolve and find out what we need as a ballclub."
So is everybody else with the Lakers, who had lost nine of their last 11 against the defending Western Conference champion Thunder, including four of five in the clubs' second-round playoff series last spring and a blowout loss at Staples Center 16 days ago. The Lakers have strung together two solid games at home since a clear-the-air team meeting in Memphis last week.
"We've found something that works, that's for sure, and something we can feel good about," said Gasol, who played 36 minutes. "I think the way we are playing, we can be very successful."
Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the road-weary Thunder, who finished their longest trip of the season at 3-3. Durant could sense the Lakers' desperation in their fourth-quarter effort.