On a poor shooting night, Kobe Bryant came through when the Los Angeles Lakers needed him the most, and then he nearly blew it about 10 seconds later.
Bryant banked in a running 12-foot jumper over Caron Butler with 25 seconds left last night, then went 1-for-2 on foul shots 10 seconds later, but the visiting best-in-the-West Lakers eked out a 106-104 victory over the worst-in-the-East Washington Wizards.
After Bryant's miss at the line,Butler had a chance to win the game for Washington, but missed a three-point attempt shortly before the buzzer.
Bryant was 5-for-17 from the field and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Butler led the Wizards with 26 points.
Treated again to "M-V-P!" chants on the road, Bryant was resting on the sideline for much of the fourth quarter as his team allowed what was once a 20-point lead to dwindle, with Butler and Andray Blatche leading Washington's charge to get within 103-102.
That's when Bryant responded by sinking his lone field goal of the fourth quarter. Blatche's tip-in got Washington back within a point, and Bryant was immediately fouled for the clinching point.
Andrew Bynum delivered a season-high 19 points, along with 10 rebounds, for Los Angeles, and Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds; Blatche had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
In other games:
* At Orlando, Dwight Howard had 21 points and 23 rebounds to lead the Magic to a 98-89 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
* At Cleveland, with thousands of fans wearing curly, red-headed hair pieces in his honor, Anderson Varejao scored 17 points in the first half as the Cavaliers won their seventh straight, 97-73, over the Indiana Pacers.
* At Atlanta, Marvin Williams scored 18 points, and the Hawks beat the New York Knicks, 98-95.
* At East Rutherford, N.J., Vince Carter scored 18 points, and Yi Jianlian and Devin Harris each had 16 to help the New Jersey Nets rout the Minnesota Timberwolves, 113-84.
* At Boston, Ray Allen scored 19 points and Rajon Rondo followed his first career triple-double with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Celtics to a 93-78 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
* At Memphis, Rudy Gay scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half to help the Grizzlies snap a seven-game losing streak with a 93-81 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
* At Milwaukee, Richard Jefferson made two free throws with 9 seconds left to help the Bucks beat the Charlotte Bobcats, 101-96. Michael Redd scored 25 points in his third game back since missing 14 games because of a sprained right ankle, and Jefferson added 22.
* At Houston, Yao Ming scored 19 of his season-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, and Ron Artest added 28 points to help the Rockets top the Golden State Warriors, 131-112. *