NEW YORK - From the jawing with Spike Lee and Chris Rock to the postgame news conference with his daughters on his lap, Kobe Bryant enjoyed every minute of his return to Madison Square Garden.
Making history made it even better.
The former Lower Merion star scored 39 points, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach 20,000, and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the New York Knicks, 95-90, yesterday.
Bryant added 11 rebounds and eight assists in his first game at the Garden in nearly two years. His three-pointer in the opening minute of the third quarter allowed him to reach the milestone at 29 years, 122 days.
"I always like playing here, period," Bryant said. "Last year, I didn't have an opportunity to play, and I was upset about it. This is my favorite arena to play in, so I'm just happy and relieved that I was able to play tonight."
Before Bryant, who was suspended last year when the Lakers came to New York, only Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael Jordan (29, 326) had gotten there before turning 30.
Pistons 94, Rockets 82
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Richard Hamilton scored 17 points and Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace added double-doubles, helping Detroit easily defeated shorthanded Houston.
The Rockets started the night near full strength, but their two stars both left with injuries. Tracy McGrady didn't come out for the second half after aggravating a sore knee, and Yao Ming missed most of the second half after needing four stitches to close a facial cut.
Nuggets 106, Kings 105
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Linas Kleiza recovered the ball in a scramble and hit a jumper just before the final buzzer sounded, lifting Denver to a thrilling win over Sacramento.
The Kings kept giving Denver extra chances, such as when Brad Miller bricked two free throws with 16.5 seconds left. After Allen Iverson missed from close range, Marcus Camby tipped the ball and Kleiza got possession and nailed the shot while falling away under pressure from the left wing.
Celtics 103, Magic 91
BOSTON - Paul Pierce had 24 points to lead balanced scoring from Boston's starters, and the Celtics raced to a victory against Orlando.
Rajon Rondo added 23 points, Ray Allen had 22, and Kevin Garnett notched 21 for the Celtics.
Warriors 105, Cavaliers 96
CLEVELAND - Stephen Jackson scored 29 points and Baron Davis added 27 and Golden State rolled to a win against struggling Cleveland.