The tape around Kobe Bryant's injured index finger unravels as he… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers' season tilted further toward the importance of two players and their knees, a 23-year-old gradually coming back from off-season surgery and a 32-year-old continuing to overcome his own knee issues for the better part of a year.
Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant pushed through another potentially troubling night, the Lakers hemming and hawing against the New Orleans Hornets before finally putting them away, 101-97.
Fans seemed happy Friday night at Staples Center, but it took two late running jumpers from Bryant to keep the Hornets on the losing side.
Bryant looked spry throughout the night, scoring 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting as he passed Oscar Robertson for ninth on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
Bynum continued to discover his power in the post in only his 13th game this season, scoring 17 points in 31 minutes. Not to be forgotten, Pau Gasol had 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
But the night wasn't all giggles for the Lakers, who lost reserve forward Matt Barnes because of a sprained right knee and reserve guard Steve Blake because of a sprained left ankle.
Barnes was injured while going after a rebound in the second quarter, and Blake was hurt after missing a layup in the third quarter.
Barnes' was the more severe injury, as indicated by his limp while he ambled slowly down a hallway after the game. He will have an MRI exam Saturday to determine the extent of the injury, though he mentioned there might be cartilage damage or a bone bruise.
"It's really sore," he said.
Said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson: "I'm concerned about Matt."
Coming into Friday's game, Barnes was averaging 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in his first season with the Lakers.
Meanwhile, Bryant experienced a second consecutive game of decent accuracy, and he acknowledged passing Robertson by smiling and waving briefly as fans applauded his accomplishment.
Bryant now has 26,720 career points but it might not mean as much for Bryant to pass Robertson as, say, one other particular player.
" Michael Jordan," Jackson said, filling in the blank while referring to the NBA's third-leading scorer (32,292 points). "I would imagine that is a major thing."
If Bryant continues to average 25 points a game this season, he is on pace to pass Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), Elvin Hayes (27,313) and Moses Malone (27,409) by April. For the record, Shaquille O'Neal is also ahead of Bryant, his 28,516 points good for fifth on the career charts.
Bryant is in his 15th season, with plenty of wear and tear on his body, but he says he isn't concerned about the pounding absorbed by his thrice-repaired right knee.
"Do I look worried?" he said. "Did we win last year? My knee last year was the size of a balloon. I'm not that concerned about it. I've just got to be smart."
There was a brief reminder before the game that the Lakers indeed won a championship not that long ago, Hornets reserve center DJ Mbenga receiving his championship ring next to a smiling Bryant.
The Lakers actually trailed by a point midway through the third quarter but Bryant brought them back, zinging a cross-court pass to Ron Artest for a three-pointer and hitting two six-foot runners in the final minute of the quarter.
Bynum and Gasol were both effective throughout the night, lending credence to Jackson's desire before the game to get the ball down low.
It did, and the Lakers outscored the Hornets in the paint, 50-32, for a third consecutive victory.
It isn't comparable to the sunnier days of their 8-0 start, but it's something.