After their ugliest offensive performance of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers got back on track in their effort to lock up home-court advantage in the Western Conference.
A visit to New Orleans should help them get one step closer.
The Lakers look for their ninth win in 10 games Monday night when they try to complete a three-game season sweep of the reeling Hornets, who have lost five of six by double figures.
Los Angeles (54-19) brought a seven-game winning streak into Oklahoma City on Friday night, but never were competitive against the Thunder. The Lakers trailed by 33 points after three quarters and lost 91-75, shooting 39.2 percent as Kobe Bryant(notes) and Pau Gasol(notes) were held to 20 total points.
It didn’t take long for them to bounce back. Los Angeles built a 20-point lead after three quarters Saturday in Houston, getting 30 points from Gasol and a near triple-double from Bryant (17 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) in a 109-101 victory.
“We tried to be aggressive and bounce back from a poor performance,” Gasol told the NBA’s official Web site. “We cracked it open in the second quarter and that gave us the momentum to put them away.”
The Lakers need four wins in their final nine games to wrap up the West’s top seed. With only an outside shot at catching Cleveland for the league’s best record, there doesn’t seem to be much incentive left, but Gasol says that’s not the case.
“We have to continue to tighten things up,” Gasol said. “We’re in good position. We’re in the same position as we were last year, and I like the ending we had last year.”
They haven’t had much trouble with New Orleans (34-40) in their first two meetings, both at Staples Center. Bryant scored 28 points in a 104-88 win Nov. 8 in which both Gasol and Andrew Bynum(notes) were out, then Bynum had 21 points in a 110-99 victory Dec. 1.
Bynum won’t play during the last two games of Los Angeles’ road trip as he recovers from a strained left Achilles’ tendon, but he could return as soon as Friday against Utah.
The Hornets are working their biggest star back into the lineup, but Chris Paul’s(notes) return came too late to make a playoff run. Though New Orleans stopped a three-game losing streak by beating Dallas in Paul’s first game back last Monday, they lost 105-92 to Cleveland on Wednesday, then were officially eliminated from playoff contention in Saturday’s 112-101 loss to Portland.
The Hornets’ last five losses have been by an average of 13.4 points.
“We understand the need to compete and prepare and play the game and build some momentum,” coach Jeff Bower said. “We won’t go into a game without the intention of winning.”
Paul has looked rusty since coming back from left knee surgery, averaging 7.7 points and shooting 36.0 percent, but his rookie teammate hasn’t slowed down. Darren Collison(notes), who averaged 19.3 points while Paul was out, has averaged 18.3 points and 6.7 assists since the All-Star’s return. He made all 10 of his shots in the loss to Portland.
Collison scored a team-high 20 points in starting for Paul during the December loss to the Lakers.
The Hornets need more from David West(notes), who averaged 22.5 points and 11.3 rebounds versus Los Angeles last season despite losing three of four. West has been held to 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game against the Lakers in 2009-10.