Kobe Bryant, who thinks the Lakers will make the playoffs, scored 40 points in Los Angeles' 111-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.
Bryant said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he is certain the Lakers will make the playoffs. The 15-time All-Star also claimed he has "no fear" of any potential postseason opponent in the competitive Western Conference.
The 34-year-old Bryant added seven rebounds and two steals for the Lakers, who have won seven of 10 and sit 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the conference standings.
Dwight Howard tallied 19 points and 16 boards for Los Angeles, which has won six straight home games against Portland. Antawn Jamison had 16 points.
"I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win," Howard said. "I still have to do a better job of finishing around the basket. I missed some shots that I normally don't miss tonight in the paint. I have to continue to work and do better."
J.J. Hickson ended with 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who have lost seven in a row. Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard added 22 and 19 points, respectively.
"I was glad the way our team fought," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "We've had a rough stretch and came out and played aggressively, we pushed the tempo and did a lot of good things out there. I thought we played well enough to win the game but unfortunately we didn't."
Trailing by four, 99-95, with less than six minutes to play, Bryant made a 15- foot jumper to spark a 10-2 Los Angeles run. Bryant tallied seven points during the flurry, including a three-point play to give the Lakers a 105-103 lead.
Los Angeles had a chance to extend its margin after Wesley Matthews was called for a technical foul. Matthews thought he was fouled as Howard knocked the ball out of his hands. Matthews threw his hands up in disbelief over the no- call, which led to the technical.
However, Steve Nash missed the technical free throw. Lillard responded with a nice layup at the other end to make it a 105-105 game with two minutes left.
Nash was just 1-of-10 from the floor before making a fadeaway jumper to put the Lakers in front.
Following misses from each team, Batum lost control of the ball due to a pesky Metta World Peace. The Lakers didn't control the ball for long as Bryant turned the ball over.
LaMarcus Aldridge missed a 16-foot jumper with 15.9 seconds remaining, leading to a pair of Bryant free throws.
Batum had his toe on the 3-point line as he made a shot from the corner, cutting the gap at 109-107. Bryant followed with two more free throws to make it a four-point contest.
Lillard missed a shot from beyond the arc in the final seconds.
"We just had to push through it. They played really well," Bryant said. "They made some very difficult shots that kept them in the ball game but we managed to find a way."
Neither team led by more than five in a tight first half that featured 12 lead changes and seven ties. Portland held a 55-53 lead at the break.
Each team scored 27 points in the third quarter and the Blazers took an 82-80 edge into the fourth.
Longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss was buried in a private ceremony on Friday ... The Lakers have taken two of three from the Blazers this season ... Portland made a move on Thursday in obtaining point guard Eric Maynor from the Oklahoma City Thunder ... Matthews returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game with an ankle injury ... World Peace and Earl Clark each had 11 points for the Lakers ... Aldridge had 15 points ... Nash went 2-of-11 from the floor.