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Sun, Mar 29, 2009 - 3:30 PM ET
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Kobe struggles as Lakers fall to Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP)

It was the kind of shot Kobe Bryant might make - a 3-pointer that bounces high off the rim, ricochets off the top of the backboard, then drops through. Mike Bibby was the one who pulled it off Sunday. Bibby scored 21 points and buried Los Angeles with his improbable 3, leading the Atlanta Hawks to an 86-76 victory in which they took advantage of an ailing Bryant and dropped the Lakers farther behind Cleveland in the race for the NBA's best overall record. The playoff-bound Hawks led nearly the entire way, rebounding from consecutive home losses to two other elite teams, San Antonio and defending champion Boston. For Los Angeles, it was the lowest-scoring game of the season. "We had just lost two very important games," said Atlanta star Joe Johnson, who scored only 10 points but locked down Bryant at the defensive end. "We needed to get back on the winning side. This was probably one of our biggest games of the season." The Lakers secured the top seed in the Western Conference with a five-game winning streak, but Bryant had just 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting. He missed the morning meal and film session because of an upset stomach, then had his second straight subpar game. "My stomach's OK now," said Bryant, coming off a 14-point performance at New Jersey. "When my medicine wears off, it's going to be interesting." Bryant picked up two quick fouls and had to sit out most of the first quarter. He might have been better off just staying there, except no one filled the void. Pau Gasol was the only other Los Angeles player in double figures, leading with 21 points, as the Lakers made just 35 percent (28 of 80) from the field. "I don't know exactly why we're so out of whack and why we were missing so much," Gasol said. "It was just a weird game, not recognizing how to attack them when they were switching." With Atlanta mired in an offensive meltdown, the Lakers pulled to 76-68 approaching the midway point of the final period. But Bibby locked it up for the Hawks with two huge 3-pointers. His second took the last bit of life out of the Lakers, dropping through the hoop after two high bounces to make it 82-70 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. "I thought it was going over the backboard," Bibby said. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, it went in.' I'll take that." The Lakers suffered a setback in their bid for the best overall record - and guaranteed home-court advantage should they make it all the way to the finals. Cleveland extended its lead for the best record to two games with a 102-74 win over Dallas. "We're certainly not going to win out," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said, "but we're going to continue to put pressure on them." With Bryant mostly watching from the bench, the Lakers struggled to 5-of-23 shooting in the opening quarter. Los Angeles led 8-4 when their star picked up his second foul, trying to draw a charge in the backcourt just 4 minutes into the game. "It took away his aggressiveness when he got those two quick fouls," Johnson said. Atlanta outscored the Lakers 16-5 the rest of the period for a 20-13 lead - Los Angeles' lowest-scoring opening quarter of the season and less than half of its 27.3-point average. Bryant returned for most of the second period, sparking the Lakers with his shooting and passing. He scored seven points, even though the Hawks tried to switch things up with little-used defensive specialist Mario West and frequent double teams. West jawed a bit after a defensive stop on Bryant, which only seemed to fire him up. Isolated on West, he switched directions four times near the top of the key before sinking a 19-foot jumper. When the Hawks tried to double, Bryant found the open man. Gasol and Trevor Ariza both dunked off passes from him. The Hawks, who had a 29-18 lead midway through the second, settled for a 40-39 advantage at the break. But Atlanta pulled away late in the third. Maurice Evans hit a 3-pointer, and the Hawks turned it into a four-point play when Zaza Pachulia was elbowed in the side by Jordan Farmer while positioning for a possible rebound. Pachulia got up slowly but made the free throw. Flip Murray missed a trey but Pachulia made a great tip in traffic for the basket, running back up the court with both hands in the air. Then Johnson stole the ball from Bryant and passed ahead to Evans, who went in for a thunderous dunk that gave Atlanta a 72-56 lead. Bryant scored off a baseline scoop with 0.2 seconds left, but the Lakers went to the fourth down by 14. Pachulia had 11 points and 13 rebounds, leading a strong effort by the thin Hawks bench. The reserves combined for 29 points and 15 rebounds, a much-needed effort with Johnson going 4 of 18 from the field. Notes: The Lakers' lowest-scoring game before Sunday was a 90-79 loss to Denver on Feb. 27. ... The little-used West scored four points. ... Atlanta's Josh Smith, a former NBA dunk champion, missed a breakaway slam late in the first and went to the bench with an embarrassed grin. ... Los Angeles lost for the first time on a seven-game road trip, which has two games remaining. ... The crowd of 20,148 was the largest for an NBA game in Philips Arena's 10-year history.
Tagged: Hawks, Lakers

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