"Kobe can really unify this team," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He can bring this team up to another level."
Shaquille O'Neal added 21 points and 13 rebounds as Los Angeles snapped Utah's three-game winning streak and beat the Jazz for the seventh time in eight home games.
"It's pretty hard to stop a team with two players like Shaq - he is a big force under the basket - and Kobe from the perimeter," said Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. "If you go to help on Kobe on the perimeter he passes it to Shaw. If you help on Shaq he kicks it out."
The Lakers took the lead for good, 60-59, on a six-foot runner by Rick Fox with 3:46 left in the third quarter. Bryant scored Los Angeles' final 10 points in the period, including a 38-footer from near the right sideline at the buzzer that gave the Lakers a 73-64 advantage entering the final 12 minutes.
Bryant, who had scored 78 points over his prior two games, also recorded Los Angeles' first seven points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 9:07 left that made it 80-71. Utah got within 82-77 after a layup by Karl Malone with 7:32 remaining before Los Angeles went on an 8-0 run over the next 3 1/2 minutes to put the game out of reach.
Bryant finished 12-of-25 from the field and 16-of-18 from the line. It was the most free throws Bryant had made all season.
Malone had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz, who shot just under 40 percent (30-of-76) while allowing the Lakers to connect on 51 percent (36-of-70).
Both teams committed 13 turnovers, but the Lakers outscored the Jazz off of the giveaways, 20-9.
Utah played without forward Matt Harpring, who did not dress after suffering bruised ribs in a victory over Golden State on Friday.
Los Angeles allowed a season-low 14 points in the first quarter and took a nine-point edge into the second period. The Lakers extended their lead to 45-35 at the half.
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