Once the shot went through the basket, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant let out his signature laser-beam glare and swung out his arms.
The 23-foot jumper extended the Lakers' lead to five points against Sacramento with 1:53 remaining in overtime Wednesday night. It also appeared to be a dagger that Bryant pierced into a standing-room-only crowd in Power Balance Pavilion that clanged their cowbells and yelled as loudly as if it were Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals. The image provided a perfect symbolic ending to the Lakers' 116-108 victory over the Kings in presumably their last game in Sacramento.
"It's fitting the game would end like this at Sacramento," Bryant told Lakers broadcaster John Ireland after scoring 36 points on 13-for-24 shooting, referring to the Lakers' contentious history with the Kings in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 playoffs. "I guess the ghosts of the past have still been haunting us."
It fit a nice story line, with Bryant forcing overtime by hitting a pull-up three-pointer after Pau Gasol dumped the ball to him and set a screen on Kings guard Marcus Thornton, tying the score, 99-99, with 4.8 seconds remaining. But the final play of regulation shouldn't have come down to Lamar Odom picking up Thornton at the free throw line, blocking his shot and Gasol grabbing a loose ball to prevent a loss.
Sure, the Lakers ended the season with what they wanted, securing the No. 2 seeding in the West and a first-round matchup with the New Orleans Hornets, whom the Lakers swept in four games in the regular season. But it came in a way that defined too appropriately the Lakers' inconsistent 2010-11 regular season.
The Lakers enjoyed an 88-70 lead at the end of the third quarter, opened the second quarter with a 9-0 run and featured enough comfort for even newly arrived Trey Johnson to impress the team with some hustle and aggressiveness. So much for the absence of Andrew Bynum (bone bruise in right knee), Matt Barnes (sore right knee) and Steve Blake (chickenpox).
The Lakers blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead, however, featuring Bryant missing five consecutive shots. There's no use analyzing this much further because the playoffs present a different picture. But it's only fitting that a team that's fought complacency for so long continued to do so even when the No. 2 seeding remained far from certain.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant flexes after hitting a three-point shot in overtime against the Kings on Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / April 13, 2011