kobe bryant

Kobe Bryant had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, Steve Nash added seven of his 17 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder 105-96 Sunday.

Pau Gasol scored 16 points in a reserve role as the Lakers picked up the most impressive victory of their thoroughly unimpressive season, coolly maintaining a small lead down the stretch of their second straight win after a four-game skid.

Los Angeles had lost nine of its last 11 against the powerful Thunder, including four of five in the clubs’ second-round playoff series last spring.

Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the road-weary Thunder, who finished their longest trip of the season at 3-3.

Bryant and Westbrook briefly tangled in the third quarter in an exchange that earned a technical foul for Kobe. Both All-Star guards entered the fourth quarter needing just one rebound for a triple-double, but neither got it.

Westbrook also missed his first eight shots and 12 of his first 13 before finding his shot, but the Lakers didn’t wilt down the stretch…

Howard had eight points and 10 rebounds while fighting foul trouble and missing eight of his 10 free throws. Bryant and Nash led a passionate effort by the Lakers, whose season-long missteps and embarrassments have left them well out of the playoff picture heading into the second half of the season.

– Reported by Greg Beacham of the Associated Press