Bryant hits for 55; Wizards fall, 108-94


LOS ANGELES - The Hollywood glitterati turned out in big numbers at the Staples Center last night to say goodbye to Michael Jordan in the legendary player's final Los Angeles appearance.

As a bonus, they got to see the legend-in-waiting, Kobe Bryant, present his credentials as the next great NBA star, and he proceeded to torch the Washington Wizards for 55 points to power the Los Angeles Lakers to a 108-94 win.

Bryant smashed a 42-year-old Lakers franchise record for points in a half with 42 in the first - including eight three-pointers - as he was virtually unstoppable.

Jordan drew three standing ovations and started out on fire, hitting his first five shots with a couple of dunks and a few up-and-under moves to give the crowd something to remember him by, finishing with 23 points.

But the night was all Bryant's. He hit 15 shots in 29 attempts, going 9-for-13 from three-point range and 16-for-18 from the free-throw line.

"In every Kung Fu movie you see, the student has to kill the teacher," said the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal about the Bryant-Jordan matchup.

Although the Lakers are not what they've been during their three straight runs to titles, losing to them in their building was no crime for a Washington team that hasn't won as a visitor against the Lakers in 11 seasons.

And the Wizards, who remained a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, could be comforted by the notion that no one on this planet could have guarded Bryant last night.

The seven-year veteran, who has scored 40 or more points in 18 games this season, sat out most of the fourth quarter in foul trouble. Otherwise he might have threatened Los Angeles' single-game record of 71, set by Elgin Baylor in 1960.

As it was, Bryant settled for an NBA season high, eclipsing the 53 points New York Knicks guard Allan Houston scored against the Lakers here on Feb. 16.

O'Neal had 26 points for Los Angeles, along with 13 rebounds, while Jerry Stackhouse scored 22 points for Washington, which will wrap up a six-game West Coast trip with a game in Denver tomorrow night.

The Wizards' record fell to 34-38, and the Lakers improved to 42-30.

"If you have the confidence and the freedom within a system," said Stackhouse, "you can have huge games like that. If [Bryant] misses those, those are terrible shots. Terrible shots. But he has the confidence and he made them.

"With that all said, we're still only down 11 points and we missed some opportunities ourselves in the first half. We ran into a player that was unstoppable tonight and a team that we just couldn't handle."

Things started well for the Wizards, who hit their first seven shots, with Jordan connecting on his first five alone, not missing until the 6:43 mark of the period.

Stackhouse's slam-dunk with 7:25 remaining in the period gave Washington a 15-7 lead, but that only set the stage for Bryant.

Bryant scored an incredible 23 consecutive points during a torrid five-minute span bridging the first and second quarters. In that run, he hit five three-pointers and three two-point baskets, drawing chants of "MVP" from the usually blase Staples Center crowd.

He kept raining jumpers into the second period, finally smashing the 43-year-old franchise record for points in a half, 37, recorded by Baylor in a Nov. 15, 1960, game against the New York Knicks.

Bryant scored his 38th point of the half on - what else? - a three-pointer, his eighth of the half, rising over his former Lakers teammate, Tyronn Lue, with 5:04 left to give the Lakers a 50-41 lead.

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