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Lakers beat Kings, await Bryant’s return

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POSTED December 6, 2013 10:30 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Jodie Meeks made two huge 3-pointers in the final minutes to finish with 19 points, lifting the Los Angeles Lakers past the Sacramento Kings 106-100 Friday night in what was expected to their last game before Kobe Bryant returns.

Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Steve Blake added 13 points and 10 assists for the Lakers, who held the Kings scoreless for nearly 3½ minutes until Ben McLemore’s meaningless 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining.

The Lakers are figuring to get an even bigger boost when Bryant returns against Toronto on Sunday, nearly eight months since undergoing surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.

DeMarcus Cousins and McLemore each scored 20 points, and Isaiah Thomas added 14 points and a season-high nine assists as Sacramento lost its sixth straight game.

The Lakers outshot the Kings 47.7 to 43 percent but were outrebounded 51-36. Los Angeles forced 17 turnovers — and committed only 12 — to seize control in the final minutes.

After going down by 10 points late in the third quarter, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni called a timeout and shouted to his players to improve defensively. They responded, scoring 11 straight to go ahead 88-87 on Blake’s 3 early in the fourth.

Meeks made a 3-pointer before Gasol’s 20-footer gave the Lakers a 98-97 lead with 1:30 remaining. Meeks followed with another 3-pointer to extend the Lakers’ lead to 101-97 with 1:09 to play.

Wesley Johnson stole the ball from McLemore on the next possession. And Nick Young followed with a 20-foot jumper to send most of the announced sellout of 17,317 — most wearing white T-shirts as part of Sacramento’s “white out” — to the exits.

The best news for the Lakers came earlier Friday, when Bryant announced his return in a dramatic video posted on his Facebook page. Bryant didn’t make the trip to Sacramento, and Los Angeles had only nine healthy players — and one point guard — after injuries to Steve Nash (back and hamstring), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring tear) and Chris Kaman (back spasms).

Robert Sacre, who started at center for the first time this season in place of Jordan Hill, helped the Lakers go ahead by eight points early in the first quarter. Thomas ignited the Kings with 14 points and seven assists in the first half as they rallied to take a 51-43 lead late in the second quarter.

Cousins’ free throws with 3:35 remaining in the fourth gave Sacramento a 97-93 lead. But the Kings didn’t score again until McLemore’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game for Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon who died Thursday at age 95. ... Nash could return to the lineup next week, D’Antoni said. ... The Kings assigned C Hamady Ndiaye to the Reno Bighorns, the team’s NBA Development League affiliate.

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