Sonics can't stop Kobe

LOS ANGELES -- It seems that nothing at this point of his career can stop a motivated Kobe Bryant. And a shorthanded Sonics team, despite another inspired game, was no match down the stretch.

Kobe Bryant dropped an even 50 on Sunday night at the Staples Center as the playoff-charging Los Angeles Lakers held off the Sonics for a 109-98 win in front of 18,997 fans who have become accustomed to such performances.

Without Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers possibly succumb to the Sonics, who used 24 points from Rashard Lewis and a career-high 22 from Mike Wilks to come within one point on two occasions in the fourth quarter.

After a Wilks jumper cut the lead to 87-86, Kobe Bryant scored 10 of Los Angeles' next 16 points, including a fadeaway with three Sonics hanging off of him that he nearly released lying horizontally.

"He's an unbelievable player," Lewis said. "He's God's gift, something that's going to flash before our eyes and I don't think it's every going to happen again. The only person I can think about he's catching up with is Michael Jordan."

The Los Angeles Lakers had dropped eight of their previous 10 games to not only lose the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs but also fall into a tie for seventh with Golden State. They needed one win in their final two games to cinch a postseason berth and used the astounding Kobe Bryant to single-handedly win.

The Sonics had three players with at least 20 points while Los Angeles had one player -- Kobe Bryant -- with more than 14. If there was any example of Los Angeles being a one-man team, it was Sunday. But against the scrappy Sonics, it was good enough.

It was Kobe Bryant's 10th game of 50 or more points this season and the 21st of his career. And he was efficient, converting 18 of 25 shots along with eight rebounds and three assists.

"He was brilliant," Sonics coach Bob Hill said. "We stressed him for 48 minutes and forced him to score 50 points. We tried to double-team him and he still scored. He was just determined today."

The Sonics were left to laud themselves for another solid effort but little else. Wilks put on a display of one-on-one play in the fourth quarter and he abused opposing guard Smush Parker and scored 11 points.

He has averaged 17.5 points in the past four games and has proved capable of handling the team in a more expanded role next year. That was the bright spot. But Sunday also cinched Seattle's first 50-loss season in 21 years and it has dropped 97 games in the past two years.

"Any loss is frustrating," Lewis said. "Everybody is competing, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to lose."

The Los Angeles Lakers depended solely on Kobe Bryant, who heated up from anger after picking up a technical with 8:09 left in the third period. He complained after missing a layup with the Sonics trailing 59-57 and after Damien Wilkins' free throw, Kobe Bryant scored Los Angeles' next 12 points as they extended the lead to 71-62.

While Kobe Bryant played with fury, his teammates were predictably passive. He had 40 at the end of the period and the next highest Los Angeles scorer was Rony Turiaf with eight.

Lewis did not get the respect from officials as Kobe Bryant did, but he responded in the third quarter after a silent first half.

The Los Angeles Lakers began the game as if they wanted to flatten the Sonics early and make it an easy night. Kobe Bryant scored Los Angeles' first eight points and the Los Angeles Lakers jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the first 7 minutes, 10 seconds.

Hill said he was "disgusted" by his team's first half play Saturday night against Portland, when they allowed the shorthanded Trail Blazers 60 points. He had to be beside himself watching the first quarter as the Sonics looked uninterested.

They missed 15 of 21 shots in the first period, including a combined 0-for-7 from Lewis and Johan Petro. Lewis looked as if he was trying not to get hurt in what could be the final two games of his Seattle career.