Larry Drew remembers thinking as a young Lakers assistant coach that Kobe Bryant’s talent "was off the charts" when the teen made his NBA debut with Los Angeles in 1996.
Fifteen years later, Drew isn’t surprised to see Bryant still climbing the charts as the sixth-best scorer in NBA history.
Bryant scored 26 points to pass Moses Malone for sixth on the career scoring list and the Lakers beat Drew’s Atlanta Hawks 101-87 on Tuesday night for their eighth straight win.
"He’s very unique," said Drew, in his first season as the Hawks’ coach, of the Lakers’ star. "I was in L.A. when we traded for him, and you saw the talent.
"It was a matter of understanding and picking his spots and learning to play the game on the NBA level. And he did that. … He’s a phenomenal player."
Bryant, a 13-time All-Star, began the night 12 points from matching Malone’s 27,409 points. He passed Malone when he made three free throws with 2:05 remaining in the first half.
Bryant has moved past an impressive list of Hall of Fame scorers this season. He passed Malone one week after eclipsing Elvin Hayes for seventh. He also has topped the scoring totals of Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins and John Havlicek this season.
"I’m just very fortunate, that’s all," Bryant said.
The Lakers took a three-game losing streak into the All-Star break. Since then, they’ve won eight straight, a streak that began with a similar 104-80 home win over the Hawks on Feb. 22.
Bryant said the Lakers "are just all on the same page."
"We’re making people take contested shots and taking them out of areas they’re comfortable in," Bryant said.
"It’s not necessarily that we’re winning games, but how we’re winning them. We’re really playing well. We’re not making too many mistakes."
Bryant had good support as the Lakers overwhelmed the Hawks with their depth and power game inside.
The Lakers’ 7-footers – Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – both had double-doubles and dramatically affected the Hawks’ shot selection. Center Al Horford relied on jump shots for his 17 points.
Bynum had 16 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. It was his third straight game with 16 or more rebounds.
"He wasn’t the leading scorer but he still impacted the game," said the Lakers’ Lamar Odom of Bynum. "That shows you how important he is to us."
Gasol had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"Kobe is going to get his shots," said Atlanta’s Joe Johnson. "I think we all knew we had to try to limit guys around him. I think the guys around him played big."
Josh Smith scored 16 points for the Hawks, who have lost four of five.
Drew used his small lineup, with Horford joined by Smith and Marvin Williams on Atlanta’s front line. Drew wanted the Hawks to use their running game to beat the Lakers.
"We tried to put a lot of emphasis on playing up-tempo, and it seemed like we ran out of gas," Drew said.
After leading 57-49 at halftime, the Lakers scored the first six points of the second half and stretched their lead to 22 points at 79-57 late in the third period. Smith had a three-point play in a 9-0 run for Atlanta to cut the lead to 90-82.
The Lakers answered with an 8-0 run, including Bryant’s 3-pointer with 3:22 remaining.
Lakers fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" as Bryant made two free throws with 1:02 remaining. The free throws gave Los Angeles a 100-84 lead. Lakers coach Phil Jackson stuck with most of his starters for the final minute.
"It was a good performance, but after the game the mood was ‘Let’s get on to the next game,"’ Jackson said.
Los Angeles had five players in double figures before the end of the third period.
Notes: Celebrities in the crowd included Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White and former NBA star Julius Erving, who lives in Atlanta. … The Lakers won in Atlanta for the first time since Feb. 5, 2007, ending the Hawks’ streak of three straight home wins in the series. … Odom had 12 points. Derek Fisher had 11 for Los Angeles.