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Lakers 99, Hawks 98

The SportsXchange

It's been a while since the Lakers have been a .500 team -- more than a month, in fact.

On Sunday, they finally climbed back to even, beating the visiting Atlanta Hawks 99-98 to reach .500 for the first time since Dec. 28.

A significant achievement?

Not for a team that's hung 10 championship banners and been to 16 finals since 1980 and came into this season with aspirations of adding another title.

But these days, the Lakers will take what they get, and considering the hole they dug for themselves to begin this star-crossed season, even they recognize the merit in finally balancing out.

The key now is building from here, and with 22 games remaining, there is still time to prop themselves back up as a contender.

Kobe Bryant, continuing his age-defying season, scored 34 points on 13 of 27 shooting, Dwight Howard controlled the paint with 15 boards to go along with 11 points and Antawn Jamison came off the bench to add 10 points as he continues his surge in relief.

The Hawks led 98-97 when Al Horford hit a layup with 26.7 seconds left, but Bryant answered back with a layup in traffic to give the Lakers a 99-98 lead with nine seconds remaining.

The Hawks' Josh Smith turned the ball over to Steve Blake on the ensuing possession, Bryant tossed the ball in the air as time expired and the Lakers had their win.

Horford had 24 and Smith added 19 for the Hawks, who are winless so far on a three-game road trip.

It was ugly, but the Lakers straightened themselves out in time to get to 30-30 on the season.

The road gets rougher from here on out for the Lakers, with a taxing stretch of 10 games in 16 days awaiting them. They'll have no consecutive off days during that stretch, posing a significant test for an older team.

NOTES: Metta World-Peace wasn't happy when Denver coach George Karl essentially called him a dirty player for a recent flagrant foul on Kenneth Faried. World-Peace admits he plays with passions and aggression but took exception to being considered dirty. He also claims he's a product of the NBA he grew up watching in which the game was more physical. "It's not like I brought this aggression to the league. I didn't invent this. This is what we watched. This is what we saw," World-Peace said. ... Kobe Bryant was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for February, his 15th Conference Player of the Month honor. ... Atlanta's Al Horford is averaging 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting .659 from the field over the last eight games, including his third career 20/20 game. ... Josh Smith needs 28 points to reach 10,000 for his career.
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