Kobe Bryant dunks the ball in front of Atlanta Hawks big men Al Horford and… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers are still the odd team out in the Western Conference, despite climbing to .500.
Although they may be able to break into the top eight, they're not going to do it by dropping home games to teams such as the Atlanta Hawks -- who they defeated 99-98 Sunday night.
"We need wins by any means necessary," said Kobe Bryant after scoring 34 including the game-winner with nine seconds left. "Atlanta came in and they played really well. They made some big shots, they executed well. We found a way to win."
The Hawks (33-25) are a solid contender in the East, but the Lakers will have to beat teams over .500 to stay in the chase. The schedule has too many quality teams for the Lakers to ease into the playoffs.
"It hurts -- we should have won that game," said Hawks forward/guard Kyle Korver. "We made some mistakes down the stretch. They made some good plays, and you have to give them credit. Kobe played a great game. He hit some big shots toward the end -- but this is one we feel like we should have won."
Bryant had a big dunk with 2:17 left in the game and the Lakers down by a point. With 45.2 seconds left, Bryant gave his team the lead back with two free throws.
Finally, his driving layup with 9 seconds left on the clock was the difference.
"I had a couple calls not go my way," Bryant said. "Instead of whining about it, I decided to be aggressive going to the rim and I got a nice retro dunk."
Reserve guard Steve Blake got time on the floor at shooting guard alongside Steve Nash -- with Bryant playing small forward. With 1.9 seconds left, Blake made the game-sealing steal on a Josh Smith turnover.
"[Metta World Peace] was able to recover really well and put [the Hawks] in a bad position," Blake said. "It made [Smith] sort of have to throw it out. I happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Hawks forward/center Al Horford was frustrated after the game but recognized that Bryant is still among the elite guards in the league.
"There's a reason why he's one of the best players in the game," Horford said. "He did what he usually does, and we didn't do a good enough job on him."
It's going to be a difficult for the Lakers to keep winning at such a high pace, but the goal is in sight.
"We're fighting harder," said Coach Mike D'Antoni. "At a certain point, it becomes all heart and tonight we had it. We haven't had it too much this year but tonight we did."
The Lakers next play on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.