Bryant keeps passing; Lakers keep winningBy Jon Gold, The Sports Xchange | The SportsXchange – Wed, Jan 30, 2013 2:00 AM EST
LOS ANGELES -- The last time the Los Angeles Lakers squared off with the New Orleans Hornets, Kobe Bryant became the youngest player to reach the 30,000-point mark for a career. Back in those early-December days, Kobe the Scorer was still on display. These days, Kobe the Passer is in full effect. Any surprise the Lakers appear to be turning things around? Los Angeles used a big early run to take command, increased their lead to as much as 18, then held on against the feisty New Orleans Hornets to take a 111-106 win Tuesday night at Staples Center. Trailing by 18 with just under six minutes remaining, the Hornets used a 21-4 run to cut the deficit to 102-101 with 2:05 left. However, the Lakers regained control as Earl Clark dropped in a layup, Steve Nash drained a 3-pointer, and after a 28-foot 3-pointer from New Orleans' Eric Gordon, Antawn Jamison drove to the hoop for a finger-roll layup with 15.1 seconds left to ice Los Angeles' third straight win. "When we move the ball the way we're moving it, there's no reason we don't win every game as a team," said Los Angeles coach Mike D'Antoni, whose squad had 34 assists. "There's no way you wouldn't want to play this way. There's no way. You can see it in their faces. You can see it in their body language. You can see it in everything. It's too bad it came so late, but ... better late than never." The biggest catalyst to the Lakers' recent success? Bryant has become one of the game's most prolific passers. Bryant had 11 assists -- after back-to-back 14-assist games, both in wins -- to go along with 14 points and eight rebounds. "It's just a matter of reading the defense," Bryant said. "Emotionally it's contagious, and it keeps the defense always a step behind." Added New Orleans' Greivis Vasquez, who had 15 points and 15 assists: "He's finding a way to help his team win games. I think teams want him to score a lot of points so that he doesn't get anyone else involved. He's finally getting people involved. He's going to score -- he's the best scorer in the league -- but he has to do what he's got to do." With Bryant changing his game, the Lakers' offense has come alive around him, particularly in the post. Los Angeles had six players score in double figures, led by Dwight Howard, who had 24 points. Clark added 20 points and 12 rebounds. Jamison finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, and Jodie Meeks added 13 points as the Lakers bench finished with a plus-minus of plus-59, boosted by the return of backup point guard Steve Blake from a long injury layoff. "We're doing a good job of not being selfish and doing whatever it takes to get the win," Howard said. "We're just playing a little better. Things are clicking for us. ... At this point, the only thing that matters for us is the win." Gordon hit six 3-pointers in eight attempts and scored 25 points to lead the Hornets, who shot 26 percent from the field in the second quarter. Robin Lopez added 16 points and nine rebounds. Ryan Anderson had 16 points off the bench for New Orleans, but the rest of the Hornets' reserves shot just 5-for-23. "Against a team like this, you can't have a second quarter like we had," said New Orleans coach Monty Williams, whose team was outscored 29-18 in that period. "Second half we had 64 points, didn't turn the ball over, but they had 50 rebounds, and I thought we missed a lot of shots around the basket. They won the game, but I felt good about the way the guys played." The Lakers posted a 50-37 rebounding advantage. NOTES: Blake last played for the Lakers on Nov. 11 in a 103-90 win over Sacramento. With Nash hurt early in the season, Blake assumed the starting point guard role and was averaging 26 minutes, 5.1 points and 3.4 assists per game before being injured. ... The Lakers won the teams' other matchup this season, a 103-87 victory on Dec. 5 that featured some of the team's best offense of the year. Los Angeles had 24 assists, just nine turnovers and shot better than 46 percent from 3-point range. ... Vasquez entered the night ranked third in the NBA with an average of 9.2 assists per game. He recorded his 20th double-digit assist game. ... Los Angeles swept the season series last year, 3-0. ... Anderson's seven 3-pointers in a 91-83 Hornets win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 27 marked his 10th game with five or more 3-pointers this season. He went 3-for-7 from long range Tuesday.
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