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Kobe's 38 Help Lakers End Slide At 6

Kobe Bryant appeared well on his way to his fourth 50-point game of the season _ or at least his fourth straight 40-point effort against the Boston Celtics _ until coach Phil Jackson invoked the mercy rule on the NBA's worst team.

Bryant scored 22 of his 38 points in the first quarter and added nine assists, while the Los Angeles Lakers routed the hapless Celtics 122-96 to end a six-game losing streak _ the longest of Jackson's 16-year coaching career. The Celtics appeared to be the perfect antidote for what was ailing the Lakers.

"A win is a win," Bryant said. "In the NBA, you have to be ready to play every night because any team can beat you on any given night. It's good to get a win. To get back on the right track, you've got to start somewhere."

Reserve forward Gerald Green scored 21 points for the Celtics. Boston has lost 28 of 31 and 11 straight on the road, two shy of the club record set in 1978-79, when the team dropped its final 13 games of the season under Dave Cowens.

Bryant, last season's scoring champ, shot 9-for-12 in the opening quarter _ including 4-for-5 from 3-point range as the Lakers built a 65-54 halftime lead. The All-Star MVP went to the bench for good with 1:24 left in the third and Los Angeles ahead 94-71.

"I did my part during the first quarter, but it doesn't matter if I have a 22-point quarter or a 30-point quarter. If we're not stopping anybody, it's not going to do anything," Bryant said. "In the third quarter, we were able to stop guys, and that's what kind of broke the game open."

The Lakers shot 54.2 percent from the field, handing the Celtics their most lopsided loss this season and improving to 13-0 when shooting over 50 percent.

The Celtics completed their schedule against Pacific Division teams with a combined 0-10 record against the Lakers, Clippers, Suns, Warriors and Kings.

Paul Pierce played in his fifth game after missing 24 games because of a stress reaction in his left foot, scoring 15 points and sitting out the fourth quarter. The Celtics, who committed a season-low eight turnovers against the Lakers in a 111-98 loss on Jan. 31, had 10 by halftime in the rematch and finished with 18.

"Once we got down, we just kind of got discouraged," Pierce said. "We had lost so many games in a row. So when we get down and the lead goes to 13 or 15, it's hard to have confidence. They were playing with a lot of confidence. They fed off their crowd, and we dug ourselves too deep a hole."

A pregame moment of silence was observed for former Celtics great Dennis Johnson, who died of a heart attack on Thursday at age 52 and will be buried on March 2 in Los Angeles.

Johnson, who helped Boston win two championships _ one of them against the Lakers in 1984 _ was coach of the Celtics' Development League team in Austin, Texas, when he was stricken following a practice session. The Compton, Calif. native also won a title with Seattle in 1979, when he was the NBA finals MVP.

"It was heart-rendering to hear about it. It really hurt," Lakers Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Friday. "He was a great player. He had the game all thought out. He knew how to execute and he knew how to compete. So many players have great skills but don't understand the game. His understanding of the game was encyclopedic, and he had the will and heart of a winner."

Johnson's untimely death has further emphasized the demise of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, the most intense in league history. The Celtics, who have faced the Lakers in the NBA finals 10 times and won eight, are 95-78 against them in the regular season. They are the only team the Lakers have a losing record against. They began playing each other in 1948-49.

"There will never be another Celtics-Lakers rivalry as it was back in the day, and it might not ever happen again," Bryant said. "But that's not to say that another rivalry cannot develop. I think another rivalry will gow. Where it will come from, I don't know, but the game is such that the rivalries will happen _ just because of the spirit of the game and the competition of the game."

Notes:@ Scottie Pippen, who helped Jackson win six NBA titles in Chicago, said during the All-Star break that he wanted to come out of retirement _ and his former coach is willing to give him a look. "I anticipate that I will talk to Scottie at some point," Jackson said. "We have to entertain the possibility because we're a little bit short at forward. And a guy with that kind of experience _ even with the rapport he has with this team having been at our training camp last year _ it makes sense." ... Pierce needs 35 points to become the seventh player to score at least 15,000 in a Celtics uniform. All of the other six are in the Hall of Fame and have had their numbers retired by the club.