Kobe Bryant celebrated signing a new three-year contract extension with Los Angeles Lakers by pouring in 25 points to help his team beat Utah Jazz 106-92. The Lakers made the announcement before the game started and it showed as the All-Star guard played with the extra verve.
Bryant, the 2009 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, is the all-time leading scorer for the franchise and the 31-year-old is regarded by many as the best all-round player of his era. "We are extremely pleased we were able to reach an agreement and come to terms on the extension," said Mitch Kupchak, the general manager. "Kobe has been a cornerstone of the Lakers for well over a decade, helping to lead us to four NBA championships and in the process developing into one of the greatest players in basketball history."
The Lakers did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. With Bryant's signing following Pau Gasol's contract extension earlier this season, Kupchak said two of the main targets for the Lakers had now been completed. "We were able to accomplish those goals, helping to keep the core of this team intact for the foreseeable future and in turn help to ensure the franchise's continued success over the years to come," he added.
Bryant, a 12-time All-Star, was initially acquired by the Lakers from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Vlade Divac in July 1996. The youngest player in the NBA to score 25,000 points, Bryant is averaging 27.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists this season. He added another 25 points to his haul but he was upstaged by Lamar Odom who top-scored with 26 as the Lakers avoided a third consecutive defeat, while Carlos Boozer was the most successful Jazz player on the night with 20 points. In other on-court action, the NBA-leading Cleveland Cavaliers downed Atlanta Hawks 93-88 to reach the 60-wins mark for the second successive season - thus becoming only the ninth team to do so.
LeBron James moved up a gear in the second half, finishing the game with 27 points and 13 rebounds, as the Cavaliers (60-16) secured their 10th consecutive home win. "Our goals are huge - much bigger than winning 60 games or clinching home court or anything like that," James however said. "But you can't take something like that for granted. When those goals happen, you embrace it." Atlanta kept the game close until the fourth quarter when they went more than six minutes without a field goal. Cleveland then scored 14 consecutive points at one point in the quarter.
The Cavaliers are 34-4 in Cleveland this season and have won 17 of their last 19 games overall. Rajon Rondo shattered Bob Cousy's 50-year Boston record for single-season assists when he collected 10 against Houston on Friday to reach 724. The Hall of Famer, Cousy's 715 had stood as the franchise mark since the 1959-60 season. The Celtics lost 119-114 in overtime to the Rockets. * Agencies