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Lakers clinch NBA playoff berth

SAN ANTONIO, March 13 – Kobe Bryant scored 23 points as the Los Angeles Lakers clinched a playoff spot with a 102-95 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

LAKERSThe Lakers also wrapped up the Pacific Division in the final rematch this season of the 2008 Western Conference finals.

Tony Parker and Michael Finley led San Antonio with 25 points apiece.

Drew Gooden made his Spurs debut after being signed a week ago, but played just 3 1/2 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds.

Lamar Odom had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Los Angeles in his return from a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in Monday’s loss to Portland.

One day after ending Houston’s 12-game home winning streak, the Lakers wrapped up their road trip by bringing San Antonio’s three-game winning string to an end.

The loss cut San Antonio’s lead over the Rockets in the Southwest Division to two games, with the Spurs heading to Houston on Saturday. The Rockets play at Charlotte on Friday.

Tim Duncan had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs.

Trevor Ariza, who joined the Lakers’ starting lineup this week, scored 10 points. Derek Fisher also added 10.
The Spurs trailed by as much as 18 points before mounting a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

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Parker hit a three-pointer with 2:19 left to cut the score to 95-93, but Bryant answered right back with his three-pointer in the face of rookie George Hill.

Hill said nothing Bryant does surprises him.

"I thought it was pretty good defence," Hill said. "But it’s Kobe, and he makes great plays. I did the best I could to challenge him and try to push him back out. He’s deadly."

The close finished belied what looked like a Lakers blowout from the beginning.

Forcing the usually careful Spurs into 10 first-half turnovers, the Lakers rolled to a 35-17 lead – the most points allowed by the Spurs in the first quarter all season.

"It’s difficult to spot the best team in the league 18 points and then go play," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

"It was a really tough first quarter. They played great and didn’t miss many shots. They made shots and we played badly."

Bryant had 14 at the half against defenders ranging from 37-year-old Bruce Bowen to the rookie Hill. Finley kept the Spurs as close as he could, hitting a trio of three-pointers and scoring 17 in the first half.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he was glad to end a three-game road trip with back-to-back wins that started Wednesday in Houston.

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"It salvaged a road trip," Jackson said.

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