Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, who finished with 34 points, drives to the… (Derick E. Hingle / US Presswire )
Reporting from New Orleans
The start of a seven-game, 13-day trip for the Lakers proved to be anything but easy, even against an injury-depleted New Orleans Hornets team.
It meant the Lakers had to dig down on defense. It meant they had to take care of the basketball. And perhaps more important, it meant leaning on Pau Gasol to deliver.
The grind-it-out 101-95 victory over the Hornets on Saturday night at the New Orleans Arena could be a harbinger for the Lakers because of the difficult road they still must travel on this trip.
For now, the Lakers will take starting out 1-0, happy that Gasol was the aggressor once again after his talk with Kobe Bryant in which he demanded that the 7-foot forward be a force.
Gasol had a season-high 34 points on 13-for-17 shooting. He missed only one of his nine free throws.
He also had 10 rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot.
"It's important to win the first one and build on it," Gasol said. "Now the second step is to build on what you started.
"But it's not a guarantee. So we have to understand the next few games are going to be really tough, very challenging, each and every one of them. We've got to play our best."
Bryant wasn't bad himself, with 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The last time two Lakers scored 30-plus points in a game was Bryant (49) and Gasol (30) against Phoenix on March 1, 2009.
Gasol had 19 points in the first half and 13 in the third quarter. He had only two in the fourth quarter — on two free throws — but that was because the Lakers didn't look for Gasol, who didn't get a field-goal attempt in the quarter.
"I shot the ball well," Gasol said. "I was aggressive. I got a lot of good looks. I was in a very good rhythm tonight."
It was after the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics last Sunday that Bryant strongly urged Gasol to be more dominant.
When Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was told about Bryant's comments, he rolled his eyes.
"Kobe did that?" Jackson asked incredulously. "I talk to him [Gasol] every day about being aggressive."
Even though the Hornets were without two starters, center Emeka Okafor (left oblique strain) and small forward Trevor Ariza (sprained right ankle), they didn't roll over.
After Lakers had a 56-50 halftime lead, New Orleans shot 65% from the field in the third quarter to take a one-point lead and some home-crowd momentum into the final 12 minutes.
Chris Paul had 13 of his 21 points in the third and handed out six of his 15 assists.
But in the fourth quarter, the Lakers held the Hornets to 13 points on 27.3% (six-for-22) shooting.
The Lakers blocked three shots in the fourth and had two steals.
They also had season-low four turnovers, one shy of the franchise low.
"We got the ball stopped in the fourth quarter," Jackson said. "They were breaking through. Paul was getting what he wanted off that cross-over, getting back to the middle off screen-and-rolls. But we started getting the ball stopped in the fourth quarter."
Now it's on to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Monday.
These are the same Grizzlies that have beatenthe Lakers the last two games.
Perhaps, the grind-it-out game against the Hornets prepared the Lakers for the rest of the trip.
"I hope so," Jackson said. "That means we'll be in every game [and will have] a chance to win it, that's for sure."