Lakers welcome back Gasol, top BlazersApr 3, 2008 - 6:23 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- It's becoming increasingly clear that even without a fully healthy Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers are a much different team with him in the lineup.
Kobe Bryant flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 36 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists while Gasol made a strong return from a nine-game absence to lead the Lakers to a 104-91 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
Gasol, who was dealing with a sprained left ankle suffered early in a loss to New Orleans on March 14, had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 31 minutes of action.
"I wasn't expecting a whole lot more than this," Gasol said. "My main focus is to always try to help the team win. Whatever it is, that's what I'm going to try to do even though I've been out for a while and my ankle isn't 100 percent."
All five starters reached double-figure scoring in victory.
"We just read defenses," Bryant said. "Defenses are always going to double-up when I have the basketball, so we just move it around to open players and try to keep the defense honest."
Los Angeles (51-24) remained 1 1/2 games behind Western Conference-leading New Orleans (52-22) - which defeated Miami, 106-77, earlier in the evening - and moved to within one game of idle San Antonio (52-23).
The Lakers also increased their advantage in the Pacific Division over the idle Phoenix Suns (50-25) to one game.
With the score knotted at 50-50 at halftime, the Lakers opened the third with a 19-9 run to gain some separation, helping them to a 73-63 advantage after three quarters.
In the fourth, the Lakers took advantage of a Blazers' cold spell, going on a 9-0 run on the strength of Bryant's 3-pointer for the 86-68 advantage with 7:37 remaining.
"That's what All-Stars do," Trail Blazers forward Travis Outlaw said of Bryant. "They step in when you're team needs you."
The Blazers moved to within seven points on Martell Webster's 3-pointer at the 4:52 mark, before Bryant took over.
Bryant scored the Lakers' next nine points, including a four-point play from the wing as he was fouled by Webster making a shot from beyond the arc, to push the lead to 97-84 with 3:26 remaining.
"When the momentum swings, it's my responsibility to make plays," Bryant said. "That doesn't mean (I need to) make the shot every time, but just to make plays and get easy opportunities for us, and I was able to create a cushion."
The Blazers, who were missing All-Star guard Brandon Roy because of injury, could get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
"Injuries are an opportunity for other guys," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "I thought our guys tonight came out and they competed. You're going up against a very good Laker team and we played well in the first half. We had a bad (third) quarter and that really hurt us."
Outlaw and Webster had 23 points apiece for the Blazers, who lost for the third straight time.
LA LAKERS 104 FINAL
Apr 3 12:57 AM
LA LAKERS 73 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 3 12:24 AM
LA LAKERS 50 HALFTIME
Apr 2 11:42 PM
LA LAKERS 26 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 2 11:09 PM
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