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Plenty of Lillard, but too much Kobe

In the closing seconds of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-106 victory over the Trail Blazers Wednesday night at the Rose Garden, an “MVP!” chant serenaded Kobe Bryant as he buried another pair at the free-throw line.

The crescendo grew loud enough that the venue might have been Staples Center.

Portland is not Los Angeles, but appreciation of Bryant’s enormous talents are universal. That, and Laker fans always seem to come out of the woodwork when their team visits the City of Roses.

Bryant is determined get the Lakers into the NBA playoffs, and he was in rare form as he carried his club to a victory that will go a long way toward getting them there.

“He imposed his will on us tonight,” Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge said after Bryant poured in a season-high 47 points.

Bryant’s legs aren’t young nor, at this point of the season, well-rested. No matter.

“What is he, 37?” Aldridge asked. “Or 35? To get 47 (points), that’s impressive.”

Bryant is 34, but point well taken. Playing on legs that endured 40-plus minutes in a victory against New Orleans Tuesday night, Bryant went the distance against the Blazers.

That’s right. The entire 48 minutes.

And what a performance it was. Bryant sank 14 of 27 shots from the field and 18 of 18 from the free-throw line, grabbed eight rebounds, had five assists, four blocked shots and three steals with only one turnover as the Lakers (42-37) moved a game ahead of Utah (41-38) in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“He’s one of the best of all-time,” Portland’s Luke Babbitt said. “His will to win is huge. They had a lot riding on this game. You could see it — he didn’t want to lose.”

Or, as Portland coach Terry Stotts put it, “Kobe was on a mission.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni is playing Bryant long minutes down the stretch of a season that has been challenging for the Lakers, trying to milk every bit of production out of his resident superstar.

Bryant needed to be at his best to match talents with Blazer rookie Damian Lillard, who increased his already high profile with a scintillating performance that included a season-high 38 points, nine assists, three steals and only one turnover in 43 minutes. Lillard was 12 for 25 from the field, 5 for 11 on 3-pointers and 9 for 9 from the line.

“That’s about as good as you can get,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s about as good a rookie as I’ve ever seen. He looks like he has played 10 years in the league, and at the highest level.”

Portland was without three injured starters — forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder), guard Wesley Matthews (ankle) and center JJ Hickson (back). Stotts started four rookies — Lillard, guard Will Barton, forward Victor Claver and center Meyers Leonard.

“Damian came out very focused,” Stotts said. “He attacked from the very beginning. He was assertive. With Wes and Nic out, he knew we needed extra scoring. He picked up a lot of the slack.”

The Blazers ruled the early going thanks to Lillard, who sank a pair of treys in the first two minutes and kept his foot on the gas pedal through three quarters.

“Lillard came out and just started torching us,” Bryant said. “I figured I’d try to keep the pace. It was like a marathon run, where a runner takes off and the guy behind him doesn’t really want to chase him, but has to just to keep pace.

“He’s fantastic, really fantastic. I told him he was a bad boy. He was out there cooking with gasoline tonight.”

Bryant and Lillard wound up matched against each other for a good portion of the game.

“There was a lot of pride involved,” Lillard said. “Him being a Hall of Fame shooting guard; me being a rookie who is not going to back down.

“I scored some points and he took the challenge to guard me. Will picked up two fouls and I decided I was going to pick (Bryant) up. That’s just what it turned into. it wasn’t a duel between us. It’s just how the game played out.”

The Blazers’ theme Wednesday night was like that of the old baseball film “Eight Men Out.” There was no question about the heart displayed by the eight men Stotts sent out to battle.

“I was very pleased with the effort from beginning to end,” the first-year Blazer mentor said.

Lillard, Barton and Sasha Pavlovic took turns defending Bryant, who was in “score” mode from the beginning.

“That’s what he’s supposed to do,” Barton said. “That’s what he’s been doing his whole life. All you can do is go out there and challenge him and try to make him work for everything he gets.”

“All I could do was try to make it tough on him,” the 6-9 Pavlovic said. “I tried to stay in front of him and make him make contested shots. He did.”

“He’s a physical player,” Lillard said. “From the outside, you might not see how physical he is in the post, how physical he is when he’s trying to get position. It’s tough. He baits you, he pulls you into a physical game. He has a lot of respect (from referees), and he’s going to get those calls. He’s a tough cover.”

On Wednesday night, Bryant was on from the jump.

“Usually Kobe feels out the game,” Stotts said. “He came out very aggressive at the start.”

Lillard did, too. The result was the most entertaining game of the season at the Garden, especially through a wild first half that saw the Blazers take a 69-61 lead into intermission. By that time, Bryant had 28 points, Lillard 25.

“The first half was Damian vs. Kobe,” said Aldridge, who contributed 17 points and 16 rebounds. “Both of those guys had it going. It was fun to watch. It was fun to be out there.”

Portland scored only 35 points the rest of the way, though.

L.A. used a 10-0 run to start the third quarter to go in front 71-69 for its first lead of the game. The Lakers extended the spurt to 17-2 for a 78-71 edge before the Blazers clawed back with a 7-0 roll of their own to tie the score at 78-78.

Babbitt’s fourth 3-pointer of the game gave Portland the lead at 88-86 late in the quarter. The Blazers took a 90-88 advantage into the final period.

Portland was on top 95-90 with nine minutes left, but the Lakers, with Bryant heading the charge, outscored Portland 16-5 over the next five minutes to seize a lead with 106-100 with 4:09 to play. The Blazers got no closer than four the rest of the way.

It was the ninth straight setback for Portland (33-45) despite the efforts of its shorthanded crew.

“We’ve been talking about it the last couple of games,” Lillard said. “We wanted to have energy from the beginning and try to end the losing streak. That’s what it was going to take for us to win the game — to put together 48 minutes of energy, being competitive and playing together. We did that tonight; we just came up short.

“I didn’t think I’d have to carry the load. We had L.A. out there. He’s our best player, so I figured he’d have a good game as usual. I made my first couple of shots and was able to get in the flow of the game. Everybody was telling me to keep being aggressive. I just kept attacking.”

The loss, Lillard said, “was disappointing, especially when you have a chance to really hurt a team. They’re trying to get that last spot in the playoffs. This was like a Super Bowl for us. We’re not going to make the playoffs. Now it’s an opportunity to spoil it for (teams). we gave it our best shot.”

NOTES: Portland’s next action is Friday night at home against Oklahoma City. ...The last time the Blazers lost more than nine games in a row was near the end of the 2005-06 campaign when they dropped 11 straight. ... the Lakers are now 5-17 in games played at the Rose Garden since 2002. ... Lillard picked up his first technical foul late in the first half. "I wasn’t trying to get (a technical),” he said. “We needed to play with some emotion. I got mad, said something and (the official) gave me a tech. ... Portland set season highs for scoring in the first quarter (41) and first half (69). ...The Lakers shot a season-best .589 from the field but made only 6 of 19 shots from 3-point range. ... Portland shot .605 from the field in the first half and .286 in the second half. ... Aldridge notched his career-high 37th double-double of the season. ... Lillard is the first rookie with 38 points and nine assists in a game since Cleveland’s LeBron James in March 2004. Lillard is the first player in the NBA this season to record 38 points, nine assists and three steals.

Pau Gasol (23 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) and Dwight Howard (20 points, 10 boards) had big games for the Lakers. ... Point guard Steve Nash (hamstring) sat out his fifth straight game tonight for the Lakers. .... Lakers point guard Steve Blake had two offensive rebounds in the last two minutes. The ex-Blazer finished with eight points and seven boards. ... That was the second-best perfect free-throw performance of Bryant’s career. He was 20 for 20 in a game against New York in February 2009. ... Bryant, who was 1 for 5 from 3-point range, is 4 for his last 33 attempts from beyond the arc. ... Bryant averaged 36.0 points in four games against Portland this season. Howard averaged 23.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in those games against the Blazers.