HOUSTON // Kobe Bryant has not been overly cordial this week, slipping out of a side door after the Los Angeles Lakers lost on Monday in Portland, preferring the silence of an empty team bus over extended post-game analysis. He also declined to speak to reporters after a Wednesday afternoon shoot-around, furthering the notion that he was all business these days.
In other words, it was a bad idea for Ron Artest, the Houston forward, to prod him during Wednesday night's game. He responded by scoring 13 points in the third quarter and 18 in the fourth as the Lakers held off the Rockets 102-96. Bryant had only six points at half-time but finished with 37 after some pristine shooting. He also had six assists, five rebounds and four steals. A few years ago Bryant pleaded with the Lakers' front office to trade for Artest. On Wednesday, he merely seemed offended by Artest's in-game antics, calling the dialogue "edgy" and scoffing when asked about their rivalry. "We've had some battles in the past, and he's gotten the best of me a few times. I got the best of him," he said.
"We are not friends out there at all," Artest said. "After the season, we might play pick-up games or something like that. Not now." The Lakers (51-13) moved half a game ahead of Cleveland for the league's best record. They still have to play at San Antonio today before returning home, but they needed this win against a quality opponent. The Rockets (42-24) are third in the Western Conference and had won 11 of their last 13 games.
Dwyane Wade scored 32 points as the Miami Heat held off Boston Celtics to win 107-99. The Atlanta Hawks ended the Utah Jazz's 12-game winning streak as Joe Johnson scored 31 points and dished out nine assists to seal the 100-93 victory. Nate Robinson scored 30 points to help the New York Knicks to a 116-111 overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons, while the Minnesota Timberwolves ended a 10-game losing streak with a 104-79 triumph over the Memphis Grizzlies and Stephen Jackson led the Golden State Warriors with 29 points in a 116-112 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
* With agencies