Sixers continue playoff push, drop Lakers for sixth straight win

PHILADELPHIA -- Kobe Bryant knew something was different in his latest trip home.

"I don't have to follow the little fellow around," he said.

He's right, Allen Iverson is gone and forgotten. But there's a new A.I. in Philadelphia, and Andre Iguodala is loving every minute of tormenting his hero and reviving the once-lousy 76ers.

Iguodala scored 31 points and the Sixers spoiled Bryant's return with their sixth straight victory, 108-92 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

"When you're playing one of the best players in the game in Kobe Bryant, you're going to get energized," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I just think Andre has been taking his game to another level."

Andre Miller scored 23 points, Kyle Korver had 18 and the Sixers scored 16 straight points in a 20-3 run to cap a perfect homestand (6-0) and win their seventh straight at home in front of their first sellout crowd of the season. The Sixers are making a late playoff push, one reason team president Billy King said before the game that Cheeks would return next season.

"It's a heck of an accomplishment to win six straight home games at any point in time," Cheeks said. "For a young group to do it, it's even bigger."

Bryant cooled in the second half after scoring 21 points in the first. He finished with 30 points after serving a one-game suspension for striking a player in the face, his second penalty for that action in a little more than a month.

Bryant was only 3-for-14 in the second half for nine points as the Lakers lost their fifth straight.

"When we get our personnel back, we'll be fine," coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant visited his old high school earlier in the day, giving a pep talk to the varsity basketball team and catching up with some old teachers. Maybe they reinforced one of the golden rules: Keep your hands to yourself.

Then Bryant showed the skills that made him a first-round pick straight out of Lower Merion High, flashy and fantastic in a 1-on-1 showdown with Iguodala. Iguodala gamely kept pace with a 12-point half and a dazzling behind-the-back, reverse dunk that jolted the crowd.

Of course, the sometimes-boorish Sixers fans booed Bryant almost every time he touched the ball. The unforgiving crowd has never forgotten when Bryant proclaimed he was "coming to Philly to cut their hearts out," in the 2001 NBA finals.

But in the third quarter, it was Iguodala's time -- with a little help from Miller -- while Bryant was off the mark.

Miller led an early third-quarter run and hit a pull-up jumper that turned a 57-51 deficit into a 60-59 lead. Iguodala turned a bounce pass from Miller into another rim-shaking dunk, each one seemingly harder than the last.

Iguodala made an arching 3-pointer and was fouled by Bryant, a double thrill for the first sellout crowd of the season. He sank the free throw, then swished a jumper the next time down that made it 71-60 and capped the game-changing spurt.

"I think I'm just getting more and more comfortable with my teammates," Iguodala said. "They've really got my back every night. They're really pushing me to step up and just take the big shots."

Shammond Williams had 14 points for the Lakers. Samuel Dalembert had 12 points and 16 rebounds for the Sixers.

"I'm loving what I'm seeing. Who knows what can happen in the end," Dalembert said.

Iguodala, long an admirer of Bryant, joked earlier this week that one person he really wanted to stick it to in this one was his barber. It seems the shop is filled with Bryant memorabilia, and the barber would constantly tease Iguodala that Bryant would score 80 against him.

Next time he visits the shop, Iguodala can tell the barber that Bryant just couldn't cut it.

"I'm sure he'll have something like, 'He killed you in the first half,' but it's always fun," Iguodala said.

Bryant's first basket of the second half came with 3:55 left in the third quarter to make it 73-69. But Iguodala dunked on an alley-oop from Miller, and Korver hit a corner 3 that made it 77-70 and sent the crowd into a frenzy, rekindling memories of the 2001 NBA finals.

Bryant's next basket was a 3-pointer with 3:56 left in the game that pulled the Lakers to 98-86. Iguodala, of course, capped it with a fadeaway jumper for a 105-90 lead.

Bryant shrugged off his poor second half.

"It was just bad execution," he said. "We've seen teams deny me on the floor before. When they do that, that's when you go deeper in the offense."

Game notes
Jackson still hasn't ruled out signing Scottie Pippen. "We have to make assessments on what we're going to do," he said. "Our priorities are to get this team righted. I have no doubts as to him fitting in on what we do. The question would be, how many minutes he could play." ... The Sixers haven't won seven straight at home since March 6-30, 2004. Their last six-game winning streak was Nov. 5-16, 2005.

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