Thursday, April 17, 2003

NBA: Kobe matches Baylor, West

The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. - Kobe Bryant made some franchise history and the Lakers finished the regular season by moving up a spot for the playoffs.

Bryant scored 44 points as the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 117-111 on Wednesday night, earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

Bryant became just the third Laker to average 30 points in a season, joining Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, by scoring 40 or more for the 19th time this season.

"It feels good. It's something I never thought about," Bryant said. "It's been a crazy year. You continue to work hard and all of a sudden you look up and you're setting records."

Shaquille O'Neal recorded his 46th double-double of the season with 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who will face fourth-seeded Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers, winners of 11 of their last 13, grabbed the fifth spot after the Los Angeles Clippers defeated Portland earlier Wednesday, dropping the Trail Blazers to sixth place.

"That's what we played for," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We wanted to play to win. We try to set a mind-set about going out and playing hard every night. It's important to finish strong and we stayed focused."

Gilbert Arenas scored 33 points for the Warriors, who lost their fourth straight. Mike Dunleavy added a career-high 21 points and Jason Richardson finished with 19. Antawn Jamison had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Los Angeles knew it was headed for the playoffs two weeks ago. The only mystery left for the Lakers was where they would head to open the playoffs on Sunday. After the Timberwolves won earlier in the evening, the choice was Dallas or Minnesota.

"Minnesota is our first test," O'Neal said. "Mr. (Kevin) Garnett has something to prove and we have something to prove. It should be a good series."

Golden State was eliminated from playoff contention on Friday despite its best season in nine years. The Warriors improved by 17 games, third best in team history.

"At the beginning of the season we lost eight straight and were one and something," Arenas said. "Then Earl (Boykins) came and gave us that extra spark for the season. You could see it in the first game against San Antonio. We were hanging in against good teams. Then you see Earl and you pick up on what he does."

The Lakers took a 91-87 lead into the final quarter as Bryant scored the final five points of the quarter.

Golden State fell behind by nine early in the fourth quarter but rallied to tie the game at 100 when Dunleavy hit a short jumper with 7:12 remaining to play.

The lead changed hands five times in the next three minutes before the Lakers began to take control after Bryant kicked off a 12-0 run that gave Los Angeles a 117-106 lead with less than a minute to play.

Bryant sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 60-56 halftime lead.

Kings 95, Jazz 84

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Chris Webber scored 15 points, and Bobby Jackson had nine points in the fourth quarter as the Sacramento Kings beat the Utah Jazz in a low-key preview of their upcoming playoff.

The Jazz and the Kings will begin their third playoff series in five years this weekend in Sacramento. Both teams played the regular-season finale conservatively, with reserves getting ample minutes into the tight fourth quarter.

The game was meaningless by halftime, when Dallas' victory over San Antonio cost Sacramento any chance at home-court advantage in a potential second-round meeting with the Mavericks.

Karl Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer, had eight points in what might have been his final regular-season game with Utah. Malone has openly campaigned to join a Western Conference contender next season.

SuperSonics 84, Suns 70

SEATTLE - Ray Allen scored 19 as the Seattle SuperSonics topped the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns, looking ahead to the postseason, rested most of their starting lineup for a second straight night. Only Amare Stoudamire saw significant playing time, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. Joe Johnson led Phoenix with 21 points.

Allen, who had scored more than 30 in three of the previous four games, made 7-of-17 from the field. Brent Barry scored 14, Vladimir Radmanovic had 12 and Calvin Booth added 10 for the Sonics.

Clippers 107, Trail Blazers 93

LOS ANGELES - Lamar Odom had 24 points and 13 rebounds and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated Portland, dropping the playoff-bound Trail Blazers to sixth place in the Western Conference.

The loss means the Blazers will play Dallas in the first round.

Andre Miller added 19 points as five Clippers scored in double figures. Elton Brand had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Keyon Dooling added 16 points and Marko Jaric had 13 points. The team shot 56 percent.

Bonzi Wells led Portland with 19 points and Rasheed Wallace added 15 points.

Timberwolves 95, Grizzlies 87

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Minnesota Timberwolves clinched home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in their history with a victory over Memphis.

Kevin Garnett had 19 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists to lead Minnesota, which ended the season 51-31 to take the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference.

Minnesota has never made it to the second round of the playoffs, getting eliminated six straight times. Garnett capped a sensational regular season with his league-leading 63rd double-double.

Memphis was led by Stromile Swift and Pau Gasol with 18 points each.

Mavericks 93, Spurs 72

SAN ANTONIO - Dirk Nowitzki scored 25 points to lead Dallas past San Antonio, giving the Mavericks their first 60-win season.

The victory ensured that Dallas, the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, will have a home-court advantage if it reaches the second round of the playoffs.

The Spurs clinched the top seed in the conference on Monday and played without starters Tim Duncan and Stephen Jackson, who were placed on the injured list Wednesday.

Steve Smith, starting in place of Jackson, led San Antonio with 11 points.

Rockets 89, Nuggets 84

DENVER - Steve Francis had 17 points and nine assists, and Yao Ming had 13 points and 16 rebounds as the Houston Rockets beat the Denver Nuggets.

Houston won three straight and five of seven to close out the season but missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Denver lost eight straight and 14 of 17 to end its eighth consecutive losing season. The Nuggets tied Cleveland for the worst record in the NBA and will have an equal shot with the Cavaliers at the top pick in this year's draft.

Both teams will have 225 pingpong balls in the May 22 lottery, with the winner expected to take Ohio high school phenom LeBron James.

Celtics 99, Pistons 92

BOSTON - Tony Delk scored 17 points before sitting out the fourth quarter with the rest of the starters as the Boston Celtics tuned up for the playoffs.

Detroit, the No. 1 seed in the East, will open the playoffs against Orlando. The Celtics had previously clinched the sixth spot in the East, and they will play at Indiana.

Mark Blount came off the bench to score 11 points and grab nine rebounds for Boston. Danny Manning scored 18 and Mehmet Okur had nine rebounds for the Pistons.

Cavaliers 96, Raptors 86

CLEVELAND - Rookie Tierre Brown had 16 points and nine assists as the Cavaliers beat Toronto in what was likely Lenny Wilkens' last game as coach of the Raptors.

The 65-year-old coach is expected to be fired by Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald.

Wilkens, the league's career leader in coaching victories and losses (1,292-1,114) rarely had a full roster to work with this season as the Raptors were ravaged by injuries.

Rafer Alston scored 23 points and Chris Jefferies had 13 for Toronto, which because of injuries dressed just eight players for their final four games.

Bucks 93, Magic 87

MILWAUKEE - Tim Thomas scored 21 points and Desmond Mason had 19 points as the Milwaukee Bucks won for the eighth time in nine games.

The Bucks secured the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and will face New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs. Orlando got the eighth seed and will play the top-seeded Detroit Pistons.

Michael Redd added 18 points for the Bucks and Mason finished with 11 assists. Darrell Armstrong led the Magic with 15 points and Pat Burke had 14, including 12 in the third quarter. Drew Gooden had 13.

Pacers 90, Nets 83

INDIANAPOLIS - Al Harrington finished one assist shy of his first triple-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, as Indiana secured third place in the Eastern Conference.

The Pacers had already earned home-court advantage in the first round, but needed a victory or a Philadelphia loss to gain a spot in the standings.

Jermaine O'Neal had 26 points and 10 rebounds, Jamaal Tinsley had 10 points and 12 assists and Ron Artest added 16 points for the Pacers. Anthony Johnson led the Nets with 16 points and Aaron Williams added 14.

Hornets 92, Hawks 77

NEW ORLEANS - Baron Davis scored 21 points as Hornets defeated Atlanta to finish the regular season with a five-game winning streak.

Jamal Mashburn had 15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his third career triple-double.

The lottery-bound Hawks were trying to extend a four-game winning streak, but turned the ball over 23 times, leading to 31 Hornets points.

Dion Glover led Atlanta with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Jason Terry added 13 points and eight assists. Robert Traylor had a season-high 15 points, 13 in the fourth quarter when New Orleans pulled away.

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