Pau Gasol figured the onus was on him to score even more than usual with Kobe Bryant out of the Lakers’ lineup.
Despite the efforts of New Orleans 7-footers Chris Kaman and Jason Smith, Gasol poured in 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Los Angeles to a 93-91 victory over the Hornets on Monday night.
”I’m one of the anchors — when (Bryant) is not there, even more — so I get a lot more involved in the offense,” Gasol said. ”I’m not trying to be the main guy here. We have a great team and some great weapons. … I just picked up a little bit the role of scoring and being aggressive offensively just because, obviously, the absence of the top scorer in the league.”
Bryant missed his second straight game with a sore left shin, but point guard Ramon Sessions helped pick up the slack with 17 points and six assists. His best highlight might have been his sudden burst to the hoop for a soaring dunk over Kaman, but his ability to hit in the clutch was most evident on a 3-pointer that put the Lakers ahead by six with 26 seconds left.
”We were down Kobe, and any time you’re missing a guy like that, everybody’s got to step up,” Sessions said. ”I just tried to fill the void, taking what they give me, attacking the basket, trying to get guys shots.”
Andrew Bynum added 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who used a 15-2 run inside the last half of the fourth quarter to wipe out a seven-point hole and surge in front for good.
”Our composure was there,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. ”We had big play after big play.”
Carl Landry had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Marco Belinelli scored 20 points for New Orleans. Greivis Vasquez added 18 points and 11 assists for the Hornets, hitting a career-high five 3-pointers on six attempts.
Kaman had 16 points and five blocked shots but committed his fifth foul with 6:04 left and had to sit for nearly four crucial minutes as New Orleans lost to the Lakers by six or fewer points for the third time in three meetings.
”Chris was about as efficient as he can be,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. ”He just got in some foul trouble.”
New Orleans also was without shooting guard Eric Gordon because of back soreness that has lingered since last Saturday’s victory over Minnesota.
Williams said the Hornets simply lacked ”that closer down the stretch.”
Gasol and Bynum helped the Lakers control the paint, as Los Angeles outscored New Orleans 42-28 inside and outrebounded the Hornets 46-35.
New Orleans stayed close thanks in part to 9 of 15 shooting from deep, with Belinelli hitting four 3s.
After trailing by as much as nine points in the second quarter, the Hornets surged ahead by nine in the third period after a 12-4 run that included a 3 by Vasquez and a three-point play by Al-Farouq Aminu.
The lead was still at nine after Smith’s floater late in the third quarter, but the Lakers quickly cut it to 72-68 on Sessions’ driving layup shortly before the end of the period and Metta World Peace’s 3 to open the fourth.
The Hornets did not wilt right away as they often have this season, thanks to Belinelli, who scored seven straight Hornets points on a bail-out jumper at the shot clock buzzer, a double-pump jumper and a 29-foot 3 late in the shot clock to make it 79-71.
Soon after, a rare sellout crowd was chanting: ”Beat L.A!”
That was right about the time the Hornets started missing shots and the Lakers stormed back.
”We came alive when we needed to down the stretch,” Gasol said. ”We were covering for each other. We limited them to one shot for the most part and then we attacked on the other end and played smart. … It was good to see.”
Steve Blake drained a 3 from the corner and sank an off-balance floater off the glass. Bynum added a pair of inside baskets and blocked a shot by Landry. World Peace’s 3 put Los Angeles back in front 89-86 with 1:31 left, then Sessions added a 3 to make it 92-86. New Orleans could not quite recover, despite World Peace nearly turning the ball over with a long inbound pass to the Lakers’ back court with 1.2 seconds left. Smith got his hand on the bouncing pass but could not corral it.
Notes: The Hornets used their NBA-high 23rd different starting lineup this season. … Trevor Ariza did not play because of what Williams described as a move to get more playing time for younger players like Aminu and Lance Thomas. … Devin Ebanks started at guard with Bryant on the bench in a dark suit. Ebanks finished with six points in 26 minutes. … Saints general manager Mickey Loomis sat on the baseline near the Hornets’ bench. Earlier in the day, his eight-game suspension was upheld by the NFL in connection with the Saints’ bounty scandal. … Sitting on the other baseline was actor Christoph Waltz, who plays a German bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s ”Django Unchained,” which is currently filming in New Orleans. Leonardo DiCaprio, who also stars in the film, sat in courtside seats.