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LA Lakers 120, Memphis 81

Jan. 15, 2002 at 4:46 AM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Kobe Bryant never has been better.

Bryant poured in a career-high 56 points in just 34 minutes as the Los Angeles Lakers rebounded from an embarrassing loss with a 120-81 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Bryant was the focal point of the Lakers' offense after center Shaquille O'Neal was suspended for three games earlier in the day. The 23-year-old superstar responded with a tantalizing hightlight-reel performance.

Playing just the first three quarters, Bryant made 21-of-34 shots, including 3-of-6 3-pointers and 11-of-12 free throws. He surpassed his previous high of 51 points, accomplished on Dec. 5, 2000 against Golden State.

"My teammates kept talking to me the whole time during the game," Bryant said. "That's what made it more enjoyable because they were part of it. They were cheering me on. But they were talking to me the whole time. They were just telling me,`You almost outscored the whole team, keep going, we're looking for you.' It just made things fun."

"We had a meeting as a team tonight and he (Bryant) said, `I take responsibility for what happened a lot in the last couple of games and I want to make up for it tonight,'" Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I thought he meant he was going to pass the ball."

Bryant also established an NBA season high for points in a game, scoring three more than Tim Duncan of San Antonio had on Dec. 26.

In his dominating effort, Bryant nearly singlehandedly outscored the Grizzlies through three quarters. Los Angeles led 98-59 entering the final period.

Bryant did most of his damage against Grizzlies rookie forward Shane Battier, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year at Duke. Bryant had a combined 49 points in two previous meetings against Memphis this season.

"When you play a great player, there's no defender in this league that's good enough to stop someone else," Battier said. "(Kobe's) pretty good man, he's pretty good. He was doing some video game tricks tonight."

The Lakers, who lost at Memphis in December, rolled to their most lopsided win of the season and led by as many as 42 points in the fourth quarter.

For much of the fourth quarter, the Staples Center crowd chanted for Bryant but Lakers coach Phil Jackson let his star have the final quarter off with Los Angeles comfortably ahead.

"(A factor is) the ballgame we have on Wednesday," Jackson said of his decision. "He burned up a lot of energy tonight. He almost outscored Memphis at the end of three quarters.It was an amazing performance."

Had Bryant played the fourth quarter, he may have challenged the franchise-record 71 points scored by Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor more than 40 years ago against the New York Knicks.

O'Neal was suspended for throwing a vicious punch at Chicago's Brad Miller in the Lakers' 106-104 overtime loss to the Bulls -- the NBA's worst team -- on Saturday.

Bryant had the big man on his mind, playing with O'Neal's No. 34 scrawled in black ink on the side of both shoes.

Rookie Pau Gasol netted 25 points and Stromile Swift 22 for the Grizzlies, who fell to 0-14 all time in Los Angeles and 2-24 overall against the Lakers.

The defeat snapped a three-game winning streak for the Grizzlies, who lost for the first time since point guard Jason Williams called his team the worst in the league.

Williams was a disaster in this contest, missing all five of shots from the field and finishing with one point and one assist in 21 minutes.

Memphis shot just 39 percent (31-of-78) and committed 25 turnovers.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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