LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Even Kobe Bryant has to acknowledge he's on his most impressive scoring tear in a half-decade, decimating opponents' defences with the flair and determination of the Los Angeles Lakers superstar's best seasons.
And he's got a little more bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers and every other opponent in his way.
That severely injured wrist on his shooting hand? It's starting to heal.
Bryant scored 42 points in his third straight 40-point performance, and the Lakers blew a big early lead before hanging on for their fifth straight victory, 97-92 over Cleveland on Friday night.
Bryant managed just seven points in the fourth quarter, but two big jumpers down the stretch gave him three straight 40-point games for the first time since March 2007, when he had five straight. With just three of his teammates managing more than one field goal, the 13-time all-star guard did most of the Lakers' heavy lifting despite that torn ligament in his right wrist — an injury that would require most players to shut it down for a stretch.
Nobody is shutting down Kobe, who has scored at least 30 points in seven of his last eight games.
"The wrist is feeling stronger, feeling more comfortable," Bryant said. "It's just motivation. Nobody wants to hear about a bad wrist as being the reason why I had a bad game. Nobody wants to hear excuses."
None necessary: Bryant is third in NBA history with 110 40-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who won their eighth consecutive game at Staples Center since Christmas. Until Bryant took charge, Los Angeles allowed a 19-point lead to dwindle to three in the final minutes of coach Mike Brown's first meeting with the Cavaliers since they fired him in 2010.
"We have to make sure we keep executing offensively so we don't need to rely on (Bryant) so much," Brown said. "It's good to have a guy like Kobe Bryant in your pocket."
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and Ramon Sessions added 12 for the Cavaliers, who have played eight of their first 11 games on the road. Cleveland foundered in the first half before rallying impressively in the second half, avoiding anything close to the embarrassment of last season's 112-57 debacle at Staples Center.
Daniel Gibson missed a three-pointer that could have tied it for Cleveland with less than seven minutes to play, and the Lakers missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the fourth before Bryant's 18-footer with 4:02 left. The Cavs had absolutely no answer for Bryant, who went 15 for 31 with four three-pointers and six turnovers, often dominating the ball while his teammates were listless.
"He's seen every defence that you can throw at him," said Cavs coach Byron Scott, the longtime Lakers guard. "He's one of the smartest players I've been around, and one of the most competitive. So I don't know if it's better for us if he's taking most of the shots and the other guys are getting less, or if he's taking less shots and they're getting more. I don't know. He's just a threat when he's on the basketball court, no matter what."
Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Matt Barnes added 15 points for the Lakers, who finished the first half with an 18-3 run for an 18-point halftime lead. Los Angeles led by 12 points heading to the fourth quarter, but missed its first eight shots and failed to score for more than six minutes, allowing the Cavaliers to pull within one basket of an even game.
"It shows a lot about the character of our team," Cleveland forward Omri Casspi said. "We didn't let it get out of hand. We just wanted to keep our composure, keep playing defence and share the ball on offence, and we knew good things would happen for us. Our guys kept fighting, but in the last four minutes, they had a big run."
Just seven players scored for Brown, who rested Metta World Peace and didn't have the services of backup point guard Steve Blake, who has broken cartilage in his ribs. During the fourth quarter, the Lakers announced Blake will be sidelined three to four weeks.
Derek Fisher had 10 assists for the Lakers, getting double-digit assists for just the 15th time in the point guard's 16-year career. Rookie Darius Morris also played 17 minutes in his second career game.
NOTES: Brown said he harbours no hard feelings toward the Cavs and owner Dan Gilbert, who fired him after five successful seasons ended without a championship. ... The Lakers said World Peace is struggling with back spasms and an Achilles' tendon problem, although he wasn't listed on the pre-game injury report. ... Lakers F Josh McRoberts returned from a six-game absence with a sprained big toe, but played just 4 first-half minutes. F Troy Murphy also returned from an illness, and Jason Kapono returned from a two-game absence while his wife gave birth to twins. ... Fans included Adam Sandler, Tobey Maguire, Joe Walsh, A.C. Green and three-time U.S. Olympic boxer Rau'Shee Warren.