The Lakers emerged from their bench after the first quarter Tuesday and found something bizarre awaiting them -- a tight game.
It ended quickly from there, however, the New Orleans Hornets enduring the same fate as every other team to face the Lakers since Pau Gasol returned from a hamstring injury.
A surprisingly close game turned into the Lakers' seventh consecutive victory, a 110-99 defeat of the Hornets at Staples Center.
The Lakers (14-3) now have the NBA's best record after Phoenix got blown out Tuesday by New York. It's early yet, barely December and everything, but the Lakers have also cut into a stigma that irritated them the previous two seasons, a nagging inability to handily defeat inferior teams.
Their last seven victories, all against teams with records that are mediocre at best, have come by an average margin of victory of 16.7 points.
"Good win, could be better," Coach Phil Jackson said after the Lakers matched their longest winning streak from last season.
The game looked as if it could go either way after a first quarter that had the Lakers ahead, 31-27. Unfortunately for the Hornets, then came the second quarter.
Gasol had eight points in the quarter, Jordan Farmar had six, and the Lakers outscored New Orleans, 31-15.
End of quarter, end of game.
The only dark mark for the Lakers was another shaky effort by their reserves. Lakers fans shifted in their seats when a 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter was chopped to 10 with 1:50 to play.
Jackson refused to put his starters back into the game.
"I was going to suffer the consequences," he said. "I thought one way or the other they've got to take responsibility for it, that crew that was out there."
Despite Sasha Vujacic's out-of-control turnover with 44.9 seconds left, the Lakers held on after being outscored in the fourth quarter, 30-20.
Bryant started ahead blankly from the bench in the final seconds, his chin resting on his hand, as the reserves managed to stave off the Hornets. He didn't look happy.
The reserves also let a 21-point lead get knocked down last week in a 100-90 victory over New York.
"They've got to kind of get a rhythm," Bryant said. "It's been there some nights. Some nights it hasn't. They've just got to try to find some consistency, something they can hang their hats on."
Andrew Bynum had 21 points, Bryant had 18 and Ron Artest had 16. Gasol finished with 14 points and did not play in the fourth quarter. Bryant played only the first 1:12 of the quarter before exiting.
Bynum's scoring had dipped in recent games, undoubtedly a product of Gasol's return. He had only eight points against New Jersey and 12 against Golden State.
Against New Orleans, though, he made nine of 10 shots.
"I was catching it low and just going right to work, working on the moves I worked on before the game and at practice every day," Bynum said.
These obviously aren't the same Hornets that finished a close second to the Lakers in the Western Conference standings two seasons ago.
Former UCLA guard Darren Collison looked good in place of Chris Paul, who sat out his eighth consecutive game because of a sprained ankle, but they didn't have much beyond Collison and Emeka Okafor, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Collison, a rookie, had 20 points and five assists.
The Hornets (7-11) sure don't look like they'll be a threat this season.
"That's a curiosity of basketball," Jackson said of their two-year about-face. "And the fragility of this sport at times."
It was a strong victory for the Lakers, other than, once again, the fragility of their bench.