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Lakers move in the right direction in 103-88 victory over the Hornets

Andrew Bynum starts for the first time and scores 18 points and has six rebounds as L.A. ends a losing streak at three games.

December 29, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

Reporting from New Orleans — It's amazing what ball movement can do for a team's psyche.

Not to mention defense, rebounding and a lineup change that surprises just about everybody.

The Lakers opted to play team basketball and ended their three-game skid with fewer one-on-one moments than any of their games over the last …week? Two weeks? Month?

They pummeled the New Orleans Hornets, 103-88, Wednesday at New Orleans Arena and — what's this? — improved to 3-5 against teams with winning records after foundering badly against Miami and San Antonio.

Please excuse the confusion, but it was hard to acknowledge these were the Lakers (22-10) after one of their worst weeks in the regular season in years.

Fifteen assists and 68% shooting in the first half? A 24-point lead in the third quarter? Sixteen of 20 from the free-throw line? Impossible.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson even threw a wild card into the mix, starting Andrew Bynum a day after laughing off the idea.

Bynum responded with 18 points and six rebounds in his eighth game since off-season knee surgery, one of many sources of strength for the Lakers.

Kobe Bryant was a much more efficient shooter than his horrific eight-for-27 outing against the Spurs, scoring 20 points on eight-for-14 shooting against New Orleans.

He was in facilitator mode early, finding Bynum for a dunk and Steve Blake for an easy layup, and though he finished with seven turnovers, he seemed to have a better time with his teammates.

"It's always fun when you win," he said.

As much as Bryant's recent irritable behavior had been the story, the near future with Bynum as a starter was equally important to note.

Bynum started off wobbly, dropping an entry pass and getting called for a three-second violation, but then he dunked off a feed from Bryant and scored on a layup off Ron Artest's pass.

Later, he was short on a layup attempt but tracked down the rebound and dropped a short jumper over DJ Mbenga, his former counterpart at Lakers practices.

Most of Bynum's work came against Mbenga or defensive-minded veteran Emeka Okafor.

"I know I still have some explosiveness to get back," Bynum said. "It will come with time and I'll be back to jumping."

Even if he didn't love his game, the Lakers were glad to see him playing with power.

"He makes a big difference," Bryant said. "He's plugging up the middle, rebounding. Makes a big difference for us defensively."

The Lakers avoided their second four-game losing streak in a month by towering over the Hornets, crushing them on the boards, 44-24, and in the paint, 46-30.

The seven rebounds the Lakers allowed in the first half tied a franchise record for an opponent low in a half (Dallas in 1986). The Lakers held the Hornets to 41.8% shooting.

Imagine how many points the visitors would have scored had they not committed 21 turnovers, but perfection would be hard to demand from for a team that had been struggling so badly.

They seemed perfectly happy logging 13 assists on their first 18 baskets, an uncommonly high number for them.

"We had a shot selection that was good," Jackson said. "The ball moved."

The Hornets (18-14) continued their slide after an 11-1 start. Chris Paul had 20 points but a surprisingly low seven assists, and typically reliable David West had only eight points, sustaining a sprained ankle near the end of the second quarter that appeared to hound him in the second half.

The Lakers were glad for the first time in over a week. They weren't the ones being hammered by somebody.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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