Kobe Leads Shorthanded Lakers Past Rockets

Ron Artest is known around the league for being a little bit off, but he must have really lost it if he believed that trash-talking with Kobe Bryant was actually going to help his team win. All it did was help to get Kobe more focused, and he scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 102-96 victory over the Rockets.

With the Lakers leading by three points and about seven minutes left in the game, Kobe Bryant checked back in, and immediately was confronted by the Rockets' Ron Artest. While the two jockeyed for position on the wing, they each knocked each other's hands away, before Artest responded with a forearm to Bryant's throat. The referee stepped in to separate the two, but the talk continued the rest of the quarter, which turned out to be to the benefit of the Lakers.

It's hard to believe that another player would wake a sleeping giant like Kobe by trying to engage in a war of words, and Bryant himself seemed amazed as well.

"He must have lost his mind talking (trash) to me," Bryant said, referring to Artest.

Kobe scored 18 points from that moment through the end of the game, exchanging words with Artest throughout. He finished with 37, along with five rebounds and six assists.

Josh Powell started in place of the suspended Lamar Odom, and finished with a solid line of 17 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of action. The Lakers were tied at 86 with 2:10 to play, but outscored Houston 16-10 to end the game and secure the win. (Do the math -- that's an insane amount of scoring in the final two minutes of an NBA game.)

The Lakers survived this one without Odom, who will return for Thursday night's always epic struggle with the Spurs in San Antonio. Had Artest not chosen to nudge Bryant down the stretch, however, it might have been a different story.

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