LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant is rounding into All-Star form. It sure didn't take long.
Bryant scored 40 points in his second game back from a month-long layoff with an ankle injury, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 102-95 victory over Utah on Tuesday night.
Utah was playing short-handed, as its two top scorers - Andrei Kirilenko and Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer - sat out after both injuring their right ankles in Monday's game against Phoenix. Until Tuesday, Boozer had started in every game for the Jazz this season.
Boozer will have plenty of time to recuperate, as Tuesday's game was Utah's last before the NBA All-Star break. Utah's next game is Feb. 23 at home against the Dallas Mavericks.
Next up for Bryant is Sunday's All-Star game in Denver.
"I'm going to go out there and play hard, the time that I'm out there, whatever time it is," said Bryant, who expects to play about 10 minutes for the Western Conference All-Stars.
Caron Butler, who scored 23 points for Los Angeles, was impressed by Bryant's performance in his second game after the long layoff.
"It is amazing for a guy to sit out that long and still come back and score 40 and will us to a 'W.' That is just great leadership," Butler said.
The game was Bryant's first at home since he sprained his right ankle on Jan. 13. His first game back was in Sunday's 103-89 loss at Cleveland, where he scored 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
He went 12-of-19 from the floor and 15-of-19 from the line against the Jazz, plus eight assists and five rebounds.
"I needed to get a game under my belt to get my legs back, get my rhythm back," Bryant said. "And it's back."
Chucky Atkins added 24 points, including a 3-pointer that gave the Lakers a 96-95 lead with 54 seconds remaining. They stayed in front the rest of the way, pulling away in the closing moments on free throws.
Reserve Mehmet Okur had 20 points for Utah as the Jazz reserves outscored the Lakers' bench 50-2. Another reserve, Howard Eisley, had 14 points and nine assists.
Starter Matt Harpring had 18 points for Utah.
Without Boozer (17.8 points per game) and Kirilenko (14.6), the combined scoring average for Utah's five starters against the Lakers was a paltry 37.4 points a game.
Slava Medvedenko got his first start of the season for Los Angeles, filling in for Lamar Odom, and had seven points and nine rebounds. The Lakers said Odom had a virus, but should be fine in a couple of days.
After trailing 62-49 early in the third quarter, Los Angeles closed to 74-71 by the end of the period. Bryant got the Lakers fired up when he was hacked on his right arm driving to the basket, switched the ball to his left hand and lobbed the ball through the hoop.
After showboating a bit by staring at his left palm and feinting disbelief, Bryant made the free throw to cut the lead to 68-64.
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