Kobe Bryant studied grainy videotapes of Oscar Robertson while growing up, collecting scraps of the Big O’s game to incorporate into his own.
That’s why Bryant briefly was at a loss for words after passing Robertson on the NBA’s career scoring list during another win for the suddenly surging Lakers.
Bryant had 25 points while moving into ninth place on the list, and Pau Gasol had 21 points and 13 rebounds in Los Angeles’ third straight victory, 101-97 over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night.
After entering the NBA’s career top 10 by passing Dominique Wilkins on Tuesday night, Bryant passed Robertson with his 26,712th career point on a floating jumper in the lane with 1:09 left in the third quarter.
”This is cool. It’s a great honor,” Bryant said. ”Obviously, Oscar, I patterned so much of my game from his, Jerry (West) and Michael (Jordan) in particular – you know, those big guards, so it means a lot.”
Bryant said he admired Robertson’s physical prowess against smaller guards, taking them down low and hitting baseline jumpers over them. It’s a strategy Bryant has copied throughout his career.
After getting a warm standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd for his milestone, Bryant finished with two key baskets in the final 2 minutes while the Lakers beat New Orleans at home for the fourth straight time.
”Oscar was a big personality, one of the great players of the game, arguably one of the top guards to ever play the game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ”Kobe obviously fits in that category now, and he’s persistently gone on through his career and had the longevity to do this. He really recognizes this as a great mile mark.”
Lamar Odom had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the two-time defending champions, and Andrew Bynum added 17 points in the Lakers’ fifth win in six games since he returned to the starting lineup.
The Lakers have won three games in the past four days following an embarrassing blowout loss at home to mediocre Memphis last weekend. The roots of this surge were planted during a gut-check win at New Orleans on Dec. 29, but the Hornets came much closer to beating the Lakers this time.
”Down the stretch, we didn’t execute well and we let Kobe get in the lane and make plays,” said Chris Paul, who managed just 12 points and 10 assists. ”They played pretty good defense down the stretch. I’m kind of frustrated, because I pride myself in the last three or four minutes trying to figure out how to get a win, but we couldn’t get a stop towards the end and that’s what hurt us.”
David West had 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Hornets, who played well despite traveling a long way to open a two-game road trip.
Trevor Ariza scored 17 points against his former teammates, and Emeka Okafor had 13 points and 13 rebounds as the Hornets struggled in the paint against Gasol and Bynum, but stayed close with balanced scoring, including 17 points from Marco Belinelli.
”We liked the way we played tonight, but we came up short,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. ”We can’t be this kind of team just because we’re playing the Lakers in Los Angeles. We have to be this team every night. … I didn’t see any fear in our guys tonight.”
Not everything went well for the Lakers, who lost backup forward Matt Barnes to a sprained knee in the first half. Barnes, who’s averaging 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in his first season with Los Angeles, will have an MRI on Saturday to determine the injury’s severity.
Backup point guard Steve Blake then appeared to injure his ankle in the fourth quarter. Odom already is playing with a sprained left shoulder, although it didn’t appear to limit him.
”I’d rather my shoulder be hurt than my knee or my ankle,” Odom said with a shrug.
Williams lauded Odom before the game, calling him ”by far the best bench player in the league,” and suggesting his skills would be all-NBA caliber if he got more playing time and touches.
Odom’s 3-pointer with 7:39 to play put the Lakers up 87-77, but the Hornets replied with six straight points to keep it close.
NOTES: Before the game, Bryant and Derek Fisher presented a championship ring to DJ Mbenga, a seldom-used backup for last season’s Lakers. Mbenga has played in 25 games with minimal impact for the Hornets, and was a healthy scratch against his former team. … Next up for Bryant is Hakeem Olajuwon in eighth place with 26,946 points. When Jackson was asked which player he thought Bryant particularly was eager to surpass, the coach immediately answered: ”Michael Jordan.” … Fans near courtside included Denzel Washington, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sean Combs, Hilary Swank, Heidi Klum and Seal.