WASHINGTON -- Kobe Bryant's first field-goal attempt, officially, came about 5 minutes into Friday night's game.
Finding his path blocked on a drive into the lane, Bryant "shot" the ball off the glass right back to himself, then threw a perfect pass to Pau Gasol for a wide-open jumper. Bryant drew louder "oohs" and "aahs" later with a double-pump, two-handed reverse jam off a behind-the-back feed from Trevor Ariza.
Bryant entertained enough to draw "M-V-P!" chants again on the road, but he and his teammates on the best-in-the-West Lakers also nearly found a way to blow a 20-point lead against the worst-in-the-East Wizards before pulling out a 106-104 victory.
"We got a little complacent," acknowledged Bryant, who finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson's assessment?
"Poor coaching," he said. "That's what it was tonight. Putting too much trust and faith in a younger group -- a second unit. They just can't hold it on the road. They can't withstand the fury or the intensity of the fourth quarter. I'm going to have to change it up a little bit."
With Bryant sitting on the sideline to start the final period, Los Angeles allowed Washington to make a game of it. It was quite similar to what happened in a last-second loss to the Indiana Pacers earlier in the week.
But this time, Los Angeles was able to win, improving to 16-2. The Wizards fell to 3-14 for the first time since the 1966-67 season, when they were known as the Baltimore Bullets.
"We could be playing much better," Bryant said. "Games like this don't sit right with you."
After banking in a running 12-foot jumper over Caron Butler with 25 seconds left, Bryant missed the second of two foul shots 10 seconds later, giving the Wizards a chance for the upset. Butler said he tried to get in Bryant's head before the free throws.
"I was messing with him," said Butler, Bryant's teammate for one season in Los Angeles. "I went and walked up to him and said, 'Man, give me one."
Up to then, Bryant was 13-for-13 at the line, but he obliged. Butler dribbled out most of what was left on the clock before launching a 3-point attempt over Ariza shortly before the buzzer.
"It felt real good," said Butler, who scored 26 points. "I had no intention of driving it. I was going for the win."
Said Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott: "I'm not going to say I was praying, but I was praying. And the shot looked good."
It hit off the front of the rim. The ball bounced toward Washington's Andray Blatche, whose quick tip-in try missed as time expired.
Tapscott was happy to have All-Star forward and co-captain Butler take the final shot. Tapscott, though, wished Butler had taken it a bit sooner, leaving a little more time on the clock for a putback.
"We shot it 2 seconds too late. ... If he squeezes it off 2 seconds earlier, we might still be playing," Tapscott said.
Told of those comments, Butler disagreed.
"Nah, you know, I thought I took it just in time, because -- clean look, and if it went in, game was over. You didn't want it to be one of those situations in which the shot goes in, you've got a second left, and the best closer in basketball is at the other end, you know, asking for the ball," Butler said. "So it was like one of those situations -- you want the time to run out and hit the shot and run to the locker room with your hands up."
Not this time.
Bryant, only 5-for-17 from the field, had plenty of help. Andrew Bynum delivered a season-high 19 points, along with 10 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds -- part of a half-dozen Lakers who scored in double figures.
Still, the victory did not come easily.
"We have to make sure our minds are always in the game, no matter how big the lead is," Gasol said. "We need to make sure we finish things off. We can't afford to joke around."
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