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Bryant, Lakers grab top spot in West

Apr 13, 2008 - 11:04 PM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- With Manu Ginobili in street clothes, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers undressed the San Antonio Spurs and took control of the wild West in the process.

Bryant scored 20 points in 31 minutes as the Lakers took over the top spot in the crowded Western Conference standings with a 106-85 victory over the shorthanded Spurs on Sunday afternoon.

Lamar Odom collected 17 points and 14 rebounds for Los Angeles (56-25), which is one-half game ahead of the New Orleans Hornets (55-25) for the best record in the West with one game left on their schedule.

"We only have one more," Odom said. "At this time of year, I've never been here before in my career. There's a point where we win as many games in the Western Conference and get home-court advantage for the playoffs."

The Spurs (54-26) fell 1 1/2 games off the pace with two contests remaining and dropped into third place in the ultra-competitive Southwest Division behind New Orleans and the Houston Rockets (54-25), who are one-half game back of the Hornets.

"I don't think that anybody is counting out anybody in the West," Ginobili said. "All eight teams have chances, so regardless if we finish one, seven, or four, you got to have a shot because everything is so close. It's going to be a tough thing for everybody."

The Rockets face the Denver Nuggets later Sunday night.

"We can't worry about what other teams are doing, we just have to win our games," Bryant said. "Being the No. 1 team in the West would be a great accomplishment."

Making a push for his first Most Valuable Player Award, Bryant shot 6-of-14 from the field but expended most of his energy as a cheerleader on the bench in the fourth quarter thanks to an impressive third quarter.

"This was a fun game, and I had a good time seeing our bench come up big for us today," Bryant said. "It's all about momentum, and right now we are picking it up a little defensively."

Pau Gasol had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who outscored the Spurs, 26-14, in the third to put a stranglehold on the game.

"I think he (Gasol) makes it all come together for the Lakers in a sense that when you have a big guy running the triangle who can pass, catch and shoot the way he does makes it difficult for any team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Gasol.

Los Angeles was aided by the absence of Ginobili, who has been a legitimate MVP candidate in his own right while coming off the bench this season for San Antonio. He missed his second straight game with a strained right groin.

"I'll be fine for the playoffs," Ginobili said. "I could've played today, but (Popovich) decided not to since the playoffs are right around the corner."

Tony Parker scored 20 points for the Spurs, who travel to face the dangerous Sacramento Kings on Monday and finish the season vs. the Northwest Division champion Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

"There are eight teams that are contenders right now," Spurs center Tim Duncan said. "There are four, five, six games that are between us and the Lakers. They're (Lakers) No. 1, which is great for positioning, but the first-round opponent is going to be just as tough as anyone."