Kobe leads Lakers into home tilt with Bulls

Whether it's been through the media or on the court, Kobe Bryant has put the Los Angeles Lakers on his back.

The five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star looks to make it easier on himself and the Lakers when they host the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon. Bryant scored 40-plus points for a second straight game in a 118-116 overtime victory versus the Toronto Raptors Friday night, finishing with 41 points and 12 assists.

Bryant, who had 42 points and 12 assists to help L.A. erase a 25-point hole at New Orleans on Wednesday, buried a game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left in regulation versus the Raptors and his dunk late in overtime lifted the Lakers to their seventh win in nine tries.

"This is a huge win for us. We keep digging ourselves in these holes and we have to figure out a way to come back so that we don't have to work so hard to get a win," said Bryant, who is averaging 35.9 ppg in his last eight. "But, it feels good to be back within striking distance."

Bryant has 119 40-point games in his career and seven in 2012-13.

Los Angeles is a game over the .500 mark at 32-31 and tied with Utah for the eighth and final postseason berth in the Western Conference. The Lakers, who are also 2 1/2 games off the sixth spot, have never been two games above .500 this season.

Dwight Howard totaled 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in the win over the Raptors, while Steve Nash posted 22 points.

"Playing in games like this is great for our team," Howard said. "We're trying to get better. We could have stopped playing, but we just stuck together. Kobe hit some tough shots and we got some good stops at the end."

The Lakers have ripped off five straight wins at home and are 21-11 as the host this season. Following their game versus Chicago, the Lakers will head east for three games against Orlando, Atlanta and Indiana.

Some good news came out of the Windy City recently as former MVP Derrick Rose was medically cleared to return to action. However, Rose said he is not mentally ready for play just yet.

"He's been cleared to do everything there is," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Before he makes the final step, everyone has to get together and sign off. That hasn't happened yet. The most important part of this is that we have to trust Derrick, and I trust him."

Chicago has managed without Rose and sits fifth in the East. It ended a two- game slide the last time out with an 89-88 triumph Friday versus the Utah Jazz. Marco Belinelli hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining in the game and finished with 22 points. Carlos Boozer also had 22 points in addition to 10 rebounds for the Bulls, winners in three of five games.

Belinelli was asked about his big shot from downtown.

"Joakim (Noah) got a great rebound and found a way to pass me the ball in the corner," Belinelli said. "It was a big shot for me."

Nate Robinson was busy in the win over the Jazz, adding 14 points, seven assists and six boards.

The Bulls will open a three-game western trip Sunday and are also scheduled to visit Sacramento and Golden State. Chicago is 17-13 away from the United Center and looks to stop a three-game road slide against the Lakers.

Chicago topped Los Angeles at home, 95-83 on Jan, 21 this season. Kirk Hinrich led six Bulls players in double figures with 22 points, while Bryant was held to 16 points to end a string of 24 straight games of 20-plus points. The Bulls have won three in a row against the Lakers, but have dropped 12 of the previous 15 meetings as the visitor in this series.