Kobe scores 36 to help Lakers roll

Kobe Bryant scored 18 of his 36 points in the third quarter,

Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 14 rebounds, and the Los Angeles

Lakers handed the Phoenix Suns their fourth straight loss, 111-99

on Friday night.

It was only the fourth time in 30 games this season that the

Lakers reached the 100-point mark. Pau Gasol had 13 rebounds and 10

points, and Matt Barnes added 17 points off the bench along with

seven boards in 25 minutes. Bryant had nine rebounds and six

assists.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping attended the game, capping a

four-day visit to the U.S. He entered the arena on a red carpet

during the second quarter and observed the proceedings from the

second tier of luxury suites above the official scorer’s table and

the players’ benches.

Bryant scored at least 40 in each of his previous two games

against Phoenix, including a 48-point effort in the Lakers’ 99-83

win on Jan. 10 at Staples Center – his highest-scoring game in the

NBA when not making a 3-point shot.

Center Marcin Gortat, the only player to start all 31 games for

the Suns, led them with 21 points and 16 rebounds on his 28th

birthday. Steve Nash had 17 assists along with 11 points.

The Lakers took an 83-63 lead with an 18-2 run capped by

Bryant’s 3-pointer with 3:20 left in the third. Phoenix guard

Shannon Brown, who won two championship rings with the Lakers, cut

the margin to 87-73 with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 35

seconds of the quarter – one of them a buzzer-beater.

Brown, the last player off Phoenix’s bench, played 20 minutes

and had 15 points after sitting out six of the previous games due

to a coach’s decision. He came in averaging 9.0 points and 21.1

minutes in 23 previous games since signing with Phoenix as a free

agent on Dec. 11.

Phoenix rookie Markieff Morris hit a 3-pointer to cut the

Lakers’ lead to 93-83 with 6:47 remaining, less than a minute

before Bryant reported back in. Brown cut it to 95-90 on a

spectacular slam dunk, grabbing Morris’ missed jumper above the rim

and slamming it down in one motion with 4:30 to play.

But Derek Fisher responded with a pull-up jumper, and Bryant

followed with a pair of short jumpers to give the Lakers a 101-90

lead with 2:42 left. The Suns got no closer than eight the rest of

the way.

Three Lakers scored in double digits in the first half,

including Barnes, whose 11 points helped them take a 57-48 lead at

intermission. Gortat had 14 points and nine rebounds in the half

for Phoenix.

Coach Mike Brown’s much-maligned bench outscored the starters

24-21 over the first 20 minutes, as Troy Murphy and Steve Blake hit

3-pointers 23 seconds apart to cap an 11-0 run that turned a

one-point deficit into a 45-35 lead 5:56 left in the second

quarter.

Notes: The Suns had 17 turnovers, which the Lakers converted

into 21 points. The strangest one came early in the first quarter

when Nash had the ball at the top of the key, tried to whip a pass

to Jared Dudley in the left corner for a possible 3-point shot, and

the ball ricocheted off teammate Grant Hill’s head and out of

bounds as Hill darted down the lane. … The Suns are 8-10 when

Nash has double-digits in assists, and 3-7 when he doesn’t. They

are 0-3 in the games he’s missed. … The Suns are 0-16 when

trailing after three quarters. … Fisher, who was sent home from

Thursday’s practice because of a sinus infection, extended his

consecutive-game playing streak to 525 – the longest among active

players. It was his 403rd straight start, and he finished with 12

points in 25 minutes after missing his first three shots. … The

teams meet again Tuesday night at Phoenix, when the Suns begin a

three-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break.