Kobe Bryant drives to the hoop under pressure from New Orleans' Emeka… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
One thing's for sure as the Lakers improved to 15-1 since the All-Star break.
They would love to play New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hornets continued to be the NBA equivalent of an intentional walk for the Lakers, the latest meeting much like the last several, this one a 102-84 Lakers victory Sunday at Staples Center.
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The Lakers led for almost the entire game, their fans cheered, then the Lakers won by a lot and their fans would be forgiven for yawning. They've seen this game already, the Lakers moving to 4-0 against the Hornets this season by an average margin of almost 11 points.
If the playoffs started today, the Lakers (53-20) would get the Hornets (42-32), though Memphis and Portland are the other main first-round possibilities.
The Lakers aren't foolish enough to provide inflammatory material to be used against them next month, but the Hornets just aren't a threat, especially after perennial pillar David West went down with a season-ending knee injury last week.
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It really wasn't a surprise to see the Lakers beat the Hornets for the ninth time in 11 games, including five in a row at Staples Center.
"The size difference is really it," center Andrew Bynum said. "Normally Pau [Gasol] and I have a good night out and Kobe's Kobe."
Bryant continued his recent run with 30 points, Gasol had 23 and Bynum had 13.
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Despite still being listed on the Lakers' injury list with a sprained ankle, Bryant looks plenty fresh, averaging 36.3 points over the last three games.
"Just getting into playoff mode," he said.
The Lakers won their seventh consecutive game and stayed one ahead of Dallas for second place in the Western Conference.
Photos: Lakers vs. Hornets
In a story to be tracked over the next two weeks, they also moved to within four games of the suddenly struggling San Antonio Spurs, losers of three consecutive games.
Can the Lakers somehow catch the Spurs? Probably not, though Jackson has seen it all in a coaching career spanning from the CBA's Albany Patroons to 11 NBA championships. "All things are possible in this game," he said.
If there is a criticism of the Lakers, it's their reserves, who can't hang on to many leads these days.
Lamar Odom has been fine, but Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Luke Walton were a combined seven for 20 against New Orleans.
Jackson said he "wasn't happy" about it.
The backups faltered in the fourth quarter, allowing the Hornets to cut the lead to six, but Bynum picked up his game and pushed it to 13. After the Hornets cut it to eight, the Lakers went on a 12-2 run to end the game.
Even without West, Jackson said the Hornets should be a concern with Chris Paul and West's replacement, Carl Landry, a trade-deadline acquisition who had 24 points and 10 rebounds Sunday.
"They still have some backup there," said Jackson, still irritated that the NBA allowed the trade with Sacramento to happen. The league temporarily purchased the Hornets earlier this season and maintained day-to-day operations of the franchise.
"Turned out that it was [divine] providence or the NBA that really helped [the Hornets] get back and get Landry when they needed a player," Jackson said sarcastically.
The Lakers don't play again until a key home game Thursday against Dallas.