SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers navigated the first 19 games of the season without star Kobe Bryant well enough to welcome him back with a winning record.
Jodie Meeks made two huge 3-pointers in the final minutes to finish with 19 points, lifting the Lakers past the Sacramento Kings 106-100 Friday night in what's expected to be their last game before Bryant returns.
"You know who he is, he's Kobe Bryant. But he's not going to be able to do it by himself," said Lakers centre Jordan Hill, who had seven points and nine rebounds. "We've got to go out there and fight for him and carry him."
So far this season, they have.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Steve Blake added 13 points and 10 assists for the Lakers (10-9), who held the Kings scoreless for nearly 3 1/2 minutes until Ben McLemore's meaningless 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining.
The Lakers are counting on an even bigger boost when he returns against Toronto on Sunday, nearly eight months since undergoing surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.
"We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to have to do it by committee," said Meeks, who shot 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. "We don't have any superstars. Our superstar is coming back Sunday, but 19 games we didn't, so we had to share the ball."
DeMarcus Cousins and McLemore each scored 20 points, and Isaiah Thomas added 14 points and a season-high nine assists as Sacramento (4-13) lost its sixth straight game.
The Lakers outshot the Kings 47.7 to 43 per cent but were outrebounded 51-36. Los Angeles forced 17 turnovers -- and committed only 12 -- to seize control in the final minutes.
The Lakers outscored the Kings 25-13 in the fourth quarter.
"The one major horror that jumps out at me with our team is discipline," first-year Kings coach Michael Malone said. "And right now, we have none."
After going down by 10 points late in the third quarter, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni called a timeout. He waved his arms in the air and shouted at his players to improve defensively.
"When I'm out of my mind, I just go with it," D'Antoni said. "I wanted to kill somebody at that point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Los Angeles responded by scoring 11 straight, going ahead 88-87 on Blake's 3 early in the fourth.
Meeks made another from long range before Gasol's jumper gave the Lakers a 98-97 lead late. Meeks followed with his final 3-pointer to extend the Lakers' lead with 1:09 to play.
Wesley Johnson stole the ball from McLemore on the next possession. Then Nick Young hit a 20-foot jumper to send most of the announced sellout crowd of 17,317 -- most wearing white T-shirts as part of Sacramento's "white out" -- to the exits.
"This is just ugly," Kings point guard Greivis Vasquez said. "There's no other name. There's no other adjective I could give to describe this."
For the Lakers, though, the comeback capped a day of good news.
Bryant announced his return in a dramatic video posted on his Facebook page in the afternoon. He didn't make the trip to Sacramento, and Los Angeles had only nine healthy players -- and one point guard -- after injuries to Steve Nash (back and hamstring), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring tear) and Chris Kaman (back spasms).
Robert Sacre, who started at centre for the first time this season in place of Hill, helped the Lakers go ahead by eight points early in the first quarter. Thomas ignited the Kings with 14 points and seven assists in the first half as they took a 51-43 lead late in the second quarter.
Cousins' free throws with 3:35 remaining in the fourth gave Sacramento a 97-93 lead. But the Lakers held the Kings scoreless until McLemore's 3-pointer in the closing seconds, showing the kind of defensive effort D'Antoni hopes to get when Bryant returns.
"We have to compete like we did tonight and understand that there's going to be some turbulence ahead," D'Antoni said. "Just put your seatbelt on and we'll get through it."
NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game for Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon who died Thursday at age 95. ... Nash could return to the lineup next week, D'Antoni said. ... The Kings assigned C Hamady Ndiaye to the Reno Bighorns, the team's NBA Development League affiliate.