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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has always loved competition, and the San Antonio Spurs have always been among his fiercest.
Bryant said he will miss his "home away from home."
LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Kawhi Leonard had 16 points and they each had 11 rebounds to lift the San Antonio Spurs over Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers 109-87 on Friday night.
A lack of depth and experience proved too much for the young Lakers to overcome but not before they gave the Spurs a few scares.
Rookie D'Angelo Russell had a career-high 24 points and added six assists and six rebounds for Los Angeles. Bryant had 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting in 29 minutes.
"They force us to be our absolute best whenever we've played against them," Bryant said. "We are constantly thinking about them throughout the course of the year and always looking at what they're doing and how they're playing. We've had some epic battles."
As time expired, Bryant ran over to give San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich a long hug, and the longtime competitors spoke for a couple of minutes. Bryant tapped his chest and pointed to the crowd, acknowledging the cheers and chants of "Kobe" as he walked off the court.
Bryant announced Nov. 29 that he is retiring at the close of the season. He's helped beat the Spurs in the postseason four times, including the 2001 and 2008 Western Conference Finals.
Despite his success in San Antonio, Bryant is extremely popular in the city and a large contingent of fans came to see what could be his penultimate appearance at the AT&T Center. There were huge ovations on every Lakers' basket and even "air ball" chants when Leonard badly missed his first 3-point attempt.
"It felt good to see all those jerseys in the crowd," Bryant said. "That's very rare to have that here in San Antonio."
The crowd cheered wildly when Bryant made his first four attempts, scoring nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first quarter. He made only one more field goal while being closely guarded by Leonard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and athletic 6-foot-6 rookie Jonathon Simmons.
"I'm always out there competing and want to play hard and play good against him," Leonard said.
The Spurs and their fans were silent for much of the first quarter until the second unit energized both, as they have all season.
Aldridge fed a cutting Manu Ginobili for a reverse layup, and Ginobili returned the favor on the following possession, lobbing the ball into Aldridge for a layup. The Spurs outscored the Lakers 14-2 to close the first quarter, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Patty Mills.
Mills finished with 22 points, including three 3-pointers.
Lakers: Point guard Jordan Clarkson sat out after spraining his right ankle Wednesday at Minnesota. Scott was hopeful Clarkson could play following morning treatment, but he was unable to pivot on the sore ankle. Scott does not expect Clarkson to play Saturday in Houston. ... The Lakers will face the Spurs three more times in the regular season, including what could be Bryant's final appearance in San Antonio on Feb. 6.
Spurs: Point guard Tony Parker sat for rest. Ginobili and Tim Duncan both missed Nov. 27 for rest and Duncan also missed Dec. 7 for the same reason. San Antonio won both of those games. ... The Spurs are 8-1 in back-to-back games this season and play again on Saturday.
"I love Pop," Bryant said. "Words can't describe the amount of respect I have for him. Every chance I get, I always sit next to him and bend his ear."
KISS vocalist Paul Stanley asked the fans in attendance to sing along as he performed the National Anthem in honor of those serving in the military, the veterans who have previously served and in tribute to the innocent victims "senselessly killed by terrorists" earlier this month in San Bernardino.
Popovich smiled and applauded after Stanley finished singing.
"I thought he was great," Popovich said. "And it was heartfelt the things that he said out there. Very appropriate and heartfelt."
Lakers: At Houston on Saturday.
Spurs: At Atlanta on Saturday.
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