“I just wanted to be aggressive and try to put some pressure on him, make him foul,” Mason said. “Try to just put pressure on him, make him play defense on that end of the floor and try to wear him down, try to run a little bit.
“I think that’s what you need to do with a guy like that who can play offense like that. You just have to wear him down a little bit, and I think we did that.”
Mason, guarded much of the game by Bryant, beat the Lakers star twice on New Orleans’ first three possessions and the Hornets never trailed. They moved two games above .500 for the first time this season and passed the Lakers for seventh place in the West.
“Coach called my play a couple times and the guards got me the ball in some spots where I could work,” Mason said. “I just wanted to put the heat on him.”
Added Hornets center P.J. Brown: “I think that’s key when you’re going against an offensive juggernaut like Kobe Bryant. I think those guys don’t like to play ‘D. You’ve got to put pressure on them on the other end. I thought that’s what he did early, and it meant a lot.
“It got Kobe to concentrate a little more on the defensive end than he wanted to. He got us off to a good start. It just seemed like everything seemed to keep going after that.”
“We have all the excuses in the world: We’re young, a couple guys down, etc., etc. We’ve just got to man up and be ready to play,” Bryant said.
After Bryant had pulled the Lakers within 68-62 in the third quarter with a two-handed dunk that led to a three-point play, the Hornets (24-22) took advantage of a flurry of fouls against Bryant that left the Lakers (24-23) staggered.
Following Bryant’s third foul, Mason hit one of two free throws to start a string of nine straight points for New Orleans. Bryant was then called for his fourth foul—his second offensive foul and third overall in a two-minute span — and then a technical foul for arguing the call, and Paul hit the resulting free throw. He hit another after the Lakers were whistled for having six players on the floor, then drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Back-to-back baskets by Mason and Aaron Williams extended the lead to 78-62.
The Lakers pulled back within 10 with a three-point play by Kwame Brown and a 3-pointer by Bryant, but Paul extended the lead to 83-69 with a dazzling basket to end the third quarter. He took the ball on the right sideline, spun around one defender, dribbled behind his back and into the lane, then scooped the ball into the basket around two defenders.
Butler hit a 3-pointer to spark a 9-0 Hornets run to stretch the lead to 90-71, then added another to restore the lead to 19 points after the Lakers had pulled within 14.
He then had two follow dunks to end a nine-point Los Angeles run that had cut the deficit to 97-87.
After facing double- and triple-teams much of the game, Bryant—who averaged 43.4 points in January—was asked if he needed to learn to deal with the matchups better.
“Basically, to say yeah would be saying that I need to get 45 points to win a game,” he responded. “Do you know what I’m saying? Is that what we need to win ballgames? I think we need to execute. We need to execute our offense. We’re not doing a good job of that. Once we do that, we’ll be all right.”
Improved execution, he said, would allow the Lakers to read the defense better and not just get him the ball with 5 seconds on the shot clock.
“We just have to do a better job of spacing the court, making them play everybody as a threat,” Bryant said. “Then it makes a lot harder for them to run off and double team.”
After letting an early 12-point lead dwindle to one, New Orleans then charged back with 14 straight points to go up 56-41 on Mason’s first 3-pointer of the season.
“I was working on it for the last week,” Mason said. “I knocked my first one down today and then I airballed the next one. That’s OK. One for two is 50 percent. I’m good.”
The Hornets and 76ers agreed to extend until Monday the deadline for completing the trade of Steven Hunter to New Orleans for two second-round picks. Hornets GM Jeff Bower said Hunter’s physical exam results are being reviewed “very closely.” … The Lakers are 1-4 on their current seven-game road trip. … Bryant scored all of Los Angeles’ 15 points during one span in the first quarter. … Attendance was 19,344, a new record for a sporting event at the Ford Center. … Bryant said the third-quarter fouls were “silly calls.” He avoided a scoreless second quarter by hitting a fallaway 3-pointer at the buzzer from the right wing to bring the Lakers within 58-46.