NEW ORLEANS (AP)— The Hornets were primed to pull off an improbable comeback until Kobe Bryant made it impossible.
Bryant scored 20 points, highlighted by a tough 3-pointer over James Posey with just over a minute left, and the Los Angeles Lakers improved to 7-0 with a 93-86 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday night.
“I just wanted to shoot it in his face,” Bryant said of the late 3-pointer. “I knew I was due.”
The dramatic and deflating shot stemmed a frantic 17-4 Hornets run and put the Lakers ahead 86-80 with 1:08 to go.
“I knew Posey was going to sit on my arm, so I just had to back him up and try to shoot it,” Bryant explained. “I knew it was going to be a tough shot because I had Posey draped all over me, so I just needed to focus on the basket and try to put it in.”
Derek Fisher hit four 3-pointers and also finished with 20. He had 18 through the first three quarters, leading what to that point had been a dominant effort by Los Angeles, which never trailed.
The Lakers led by as much as 23 before nervously holding on against a team that is expected to be one of their chief rivals for Western Conference supremacy.
Chris Paul led New Orleans (4-3) with 30 points and 13 assists, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers appeared to have the game in hand after Andrew Bynum’s 8-foot turnaround jumper increased their lead to 79-63 with just under six minutes to go. But Paul scored 11 points and assisted on three other baskets during a stirring surge that pulled New Orleans to 83-80 on Paul’s floater off the glass with 1:33 left.
The fans were on their feet, urging on the defense, which appeared to be on the verge of getting another stop when Bryant’s difficult 3 as the shot clock wound down hit the back rim and dropped straight through.
“I’m never surprised to see him do anything,” Fisher said. “He’s one of those rare guys in the history of the game that I think can actually make the ball go in. … Mentally, he’s able to lock in on that rim and get the ball in the basket. That’s what separates him from some of the best to ever play.”
Hornets coach Byron Scott said Posey could not have defended the play much better.
“Pose was right in his face, and that is what great players do, they make big shots,” Scott said. “You have to give Kobe a lot of credit because that was a big-time shot.”
Soon after, Fisher made a key steal from David West and the Lakers never allowed the Hornets to get within one possession again.
However, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was a little annoyed that the game got that close.
“We sucked the joy out of a good victory,” he said.
Bynum and Pau Gasol each scored 14 for Los Angeles, and Trevor Ariza added 10 points. Bynum also had four blocked shots, setting the tone with a block on Hornets center Tyson Chandler on the game’s opening possession.
West had 21 points and 12 rebounds. Peja Stojakovic had 10 points but was only 3-of-13 shooting. Chandler had 10 rebounds.
“We just spotted them too many points,” West said. “We just didn’t have any rhythm offensively.”
Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher steals the ball from New Orleans Hornets forward David West in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. The Lakers won 93-86.
The Lakers dominated most of the game, taking a 28-17 lead on Jordan Farmar’s jumper as the first quarter ended. The basket ignited a 12-2 run that gave Los Angeles a 38-19 lead on Sasha Vujacic’s jump shot.
Poor shooting prevented the Hornets from making a sustained run in the first half. Paul kept feeding Stojakovic for open perimeter attempts, but Stojakovic couldn’t get any to fall, missing his first eight shots.
Fisher’s jump shot from just inside the 3-point line capped a 6-0 Lakers run to close out the second quarter and give Los Angeles a 51-30 lead at halftime.
The Hornets showed signs of making a game of it early in the third quarter, but only briefly. Stojakovic finally found his shooting touch, hitting a pair of 3s during an 11-2 run that also included a pair of alley-oop dunks by Chandler, both set up by Paul.
Fisher’s running jumper stemmed New Orleans’s surge, then Bynum scored inside before Fisher hit a 3 and the Lakers began to pull away again, leading 69-46 after Bynum scored inside.
New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul, front, and Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol, from Spain, talk during a break in the action in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008.
The Lakers are now the only undefeated team in the league following Atlanta’s loss to Boston, but Jackson didn’t put too much stock in that.
“If at the end of the season it’s like this then it would mean a lot,” the coach said, grinning. “There have been a lot of teams that have gotten off to good starts and it doesn’t mean they have a great finish, but this is what we want to do and we’re doing the right thing.”
The best start to a season in Lakers franchise history is 11-0 in 1997-98. … Bryant moved within three points of Larry Bird on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bird scored 21,791 points with Boston. … Paul extended to seven games his record streak of 20-point, 10-assist games to start a season. … Fisher came in averaging 9.5 points. … Paul has had a steal in 90 straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA. … The Lakers are 2-0 in the second of back-to-back games.