NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers have sometimes had trouble winning with Kobe Bryant this season, so it wasn't surprising they almost lost without him against the worst team in the Western Conference.
The Lakers continued their wildly unpredictable season, coming back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to sneak past the New Orleans Hornets, 93-91, Monday at New Orleans Arena.
It was their third tight victory against the woeful Hornets and it pushed them 1½ games ahead of the Clippers for third in the West.
Pau Gasol had 25 points, Andrew Bynum added 18 and Ramon Sessions hit a big three-pointer as Bryant sat out a second consecutive game because of a sore left shin.
He is being called day to day by the Lakers, who finish a three-game trip Wednesday in San Antonio. Trainer Gary Vitti reevaluated Bryant on Monday and detected improvement in the shin but not enough to greenlight him for the game.
"It's good for him to take some time off and get his body right and get this injury right, especially at this point in the season," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "I'd rather he be fresh going into the playoffs and us be fourth or fifth [in the conference] than him hurting or dinged up going into the playoffs and we're third."
Bryant hasn't talked to reporters since shrugging off a question about the shin last Friday.
The comeback against New Orleans was a U-turn in itself; the Lakers (36-22) often have been the ones losing leads this season. But there was almost a final detour with 1.2 seconds left and the Lakers ahead by two.
Metta World Peace inbounded the ball near midcourt but threw it way back toward the Hornets' basket. Matt Barnes was there as an emergency safety outlet, and he barely beat Hornets forward Jason Smith to the ball.
"The play of the game, in my opinion, was the 'steal' by Matt Barnes," Brown said. "If he wouldn't have stolen that pass that Metta threw, we might have lost."
Said World Peace: "I'm a math major. It was easy."
Several teammates laughed with him, or maybe it was at him, as World Peace spoke with reporters. They could afford to chuckle.
Meanwhile, Sessions has never been in a playoff game but hit a key layup last week in the final minute against the Clippers, and buried a three-pointer Monday with 26.1 seconds left for a 92-86 cushion.
"Definitely down the stretch these games are getting intense," said Sessions, who had 17 points, six assists and six rebounds. "It's good for me to get these games under my belt for when the playoffs come."
Bryant was busy while sitting on the bench in a suit, giving instructions to Bynum privately during a second-quarter timeout and to the entire team during a fourth-quarter timeout.
"He was great talking to the guys," Brown said. "I tell ya, he's one the smartest guys that I've ever been around, if he's not the smartest. Sometimes what he doesn't understand is he may understand certain things but I may not, [assistant coach] Chuck [Person] may not, Ramon Sessions may not, Pau Gasol [may not] . . . because [Bryant] is that intelligent.
"I don't think he wants to be known as a coach, though, because that red Ferrari he bought, he wouldn't be able to afford it."
Marco Belinelli and Carl Landry each had 20 points for the injury-wrecked Hornets (15-42).