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Kobe Bryant makes Lakers see the light in 104-96 win over Hornets

Bryant scores 23 in fourth quarter to help Lakers avoid a devastating loss to one of NBA's worst teams and move half a game ahead of Utah for final playoff spot.

April 09, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

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It could have been the Lakers' darkest hour this season, losing at home to the New Orleans Hornets.

So Kobe Bryant brought out his flashlight, flicked it on and shined it directly at the Hornets.

Twelve chaotic minutes later, Bryant had taken the Lakers to a 104-96 victory Tuesday at Staples Center.

Yes, there is light near the end of the regular season. Barely.

Bryant entered the fourth quarter with seven points and finished with 30, pushing the Lakers to their most important victory this season, if only because they moved half a game ahead of Utah for eighth place in the Western Conference.

It wasn't the kind of night that inspired confidence for a long Lakers playoff run. Not even close.

But if they make it past April 17, they can thank Bryant. As usual.

"We have one of the best closers in the game," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's why we could be a dangerous team."

The Lakers' cause was helped when Utah (41-38) lost at home to Oklahoma City, 90-80, news that trickled through the arena in the second quarter Tuesday.

Somehow, though, it didn't seem to matter to the Lakers (41-37).

They trailed at halftime, 50-45, as Bryant, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison combined to make four of 17 shots. It got only marginally better through three quarters, the score tied at 70-70 going into the fourth.

Bryant had made only two of seven shots at that point. He made seven of 11 the rest of the way.

"It was just ahhhh . . . I gotta go again," he said afterward. "I really didn't want to . . . but you got to do what you got to do."

Why not?

"It's about conserving some energy," Bryant said. "I know we got a tough one [Wednesday] night [at Portland]. The more I can kinda lay in the weeds, the better."

Then he added, "This is supposed to be a light year for me."

Pau Gasol had 22 points and 11 rebounds. Dwight Howard had 19 points and six rebounds. World Peace had four points in 15 minutes after returning only 12 days after surgery to remove torn knee cartilage.

Now for the fun part, a double-edged sword for the Lakers — Wednesday's game in Portland, where they are 4-17 since 2002.

And they'll try to sweep a back-to-back set for the first time this season. They've never failed to do it in any of their previous 64 seasons. This is their last, and most important, chance in 2012-13.

"It's huge," Gasol said. "It's a tough one. We have to go out there with a certain mind-set in order to be successful. They're going to be energized, the crowd is going to be into it. We're going to have to earn it."

World Peace's unexpectedly early return from knee surgery slightly eased the workload for Bryant, who logged 47, 43, 47 and 48 minutes in the previous four games.

Bryant played 41 minutes against New Orleans.

But Bryant was still the man on the spot in the fourth quarter. He scored on a series of outside shots and showed some grit, too, when Eric Gordon slipped while dribbling near the three-point line.

Bryant scooped up the loose ball, beat Gordon down court for a layup and made a free throw after Gordon fouled him. It gave the Lakers a 94-86 lead with 2:36 to play.

Gordon had 22 points for the Hornets, who fell to 27-51.

Earlier Tuesday, when the Lakers were still languishing half a game behind Utah, Howard still thought a championship was possible.

"If we get into the playoffs, there's no doubt in my mind and in any of our minds, that we can win a championship," he said after the team's morning shoot-around. "It would be stupid of me to sit here and say to you [media] guys that if we make it to the playoffs, we'll be out in the first round. I have confidence in our team."

Howard said the Lakers hadn't adopted a dour attitude yet.

"We smile in the locker room. We're still blessed to be alive," he said. "No need to walk around with frowns on our faces. We know what we need to do as a team, we've just got to go do it."

It sure didn't seem that way for three quarters.

But the Lakers prevailed, making the playoffs a slightly stronger possibility for them.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report.

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