MILWAUKEE — Kobe Bryant might not lift the league most valuable player trophy again this year, but he won’t care much if the Los Angeles Lakers reach the goal that eluded them last season.
That, to be precise, is winning the NBA championship.
The Lakers have carefully weaved their way through the regular season while keeping that goal firmly in mind.
Los Angeles ended a draining 13-day, seven-city road trip and avoided a three-game losing streak with a 104-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. A sellout Bradley Center crowd brought signs and Spanish flags to salute Pau Gasol while many chanted “MVP” when Bryant went to the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We’re happy with it,” Bryant said of the Lakers’ 5-2 record on the swing that started in Chicago and headed east before ending with back-to-back games in Charlotte and Milwaukee.
“It was tough, the first 31/2 quarters or something like that. It seemed like we were kind of stuck in the mud a little bit. We were able to hang in there with them and got something going.”
Bryant is having a sensational year, including a 61-point night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in early February.
He has started all 75 games while averaging 27.3 points (third-best in the league), 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
The Lakers (59-16) will play five of their last seven games at home as they prepare for the postseason, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he would think about resting some regulars once the team reaches the 60-victory mark. Center Andrew Bynum is due to return from injury soon, and it appears unlikely the Lakers can catch Cleveland for the league’s best record.
But Bryant, who finished with a game-high 30 points while playing 39 minutes Wednesday, clearly isn’t ready to sit.
“Break for what?” Bryant said. “People spend their hard-earned money to watch us play, and I’m going to play.”