LOS ANGELES (AP) — Beating the Charlotte Bobcats by one point isn’t a true barometer of where the slow-starting Los Angeles Lakers are at the moment.
Neither were the wins they recorded in their previous two games against the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers and NBA-worst Washington Wizards, following a four-game skid that tested new coach Mike D’Antoni’s patience — and his up-tempo offense.
All it means is that they can beat the worst of the worst. The real test comes in their next two games against a couple of vastly improved clubs, the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and New York Knicks on Christmas Day.
Kobe Bryant scored four of his 30 points in the final 1:26 and the Lakers had to overcome an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat Charlotte 101-100 on Tuesday night, handing the Bobcats their 12th straight loss.
“We just tried to grind it out. I think it was a big lesson for us,” Bryant said. “We managed to stick together. We could have folded, but we didn’t. We stayed together and played hard.”
Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace each had 17 points for the Lakers, who won their third straight to match their longest winning streak of the season. Pau Gasol, back after missing eight games with tendinitis in both knees, had 10 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes and shot 3 for 10.
“My stamina was good,” Gasol said. “I think I kept up with them pretty well and I pushed through those times when I got a little fatigued. I was pretty active and my knees are feeling much better than they were. I just have to be more confident out there.”
World Peace, who had a career-high 16 rebounds in the Lakers’ 111-98 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday, was not in the starting lineup for the first time after starting the first 25 games.
“I want him to play the 4, and we have to be able to change our team,” D’Antoni explained. “I hate it for Jordan Hill right now because he is the odd man out, and he doesn’t deserve it. He’s played well and he is a good player. But for us to have a different team — a different look — Metta has to play the 4. … As soon as Metta gets more comfortable with that role, he will be very productive as a 4.”
Bryant has scored at least 30 points in seven straight games, equaling his longest such streak since the final nine of the 2005-06 campaign. His longest streak of 30-plus games was 16, in 2002-03. He has 236 points during his current streak. The most he ever had during a seven-game stretch was 344 in 2006-07, including five games with 50 or more.
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 28 points, reserve Ramon Sessions added 20 and Gerald Henderson had 19. Byron Mullens finished with 17 rebounds and 13 points.
The Bobcats, winless since beating the league-worst Wizards in double overtime on Nov. 24 at Washington, are 14-76 since the start of last season and haven’t won back-to-back games since the final two in 2010-11. Their seven wins already have matched their total from last season’s lockout-shortened 66-game campaign, when they lost their final 23.
The Lakers, who came in 0-12 when trailing after three quarters, fell behind 80-62 after Walker capped a 14-5 run on a driving layup with 5:38 left in the third. Charlotte took a seven-point margin into the fourth, but that quickly evaporated as Los Angeles opened the quarter with a 13-0 run to grab a 90-84 lead.
“The important thing is that we got six stops, finally got our act together and started playing some defense,” Bryant said. “We’re just moving the ball. I’m being aggressive and looking for opportunities to get a few guys involved.”
Meeks tied it on a 3-pointer from the left corner in front of the Charlotte bench. Bryant’s three-point play 25 seconds later gave the Lakers an 87-84 edge with 9:53 remaining, and Darius Morris capped the rally about a minute later with a 3.
The Bobcats got the deficit down to one on a 16-footer by Walker with 6:55 to play. Bryant beat the shot clock with another 3 at the other end before Bismack Biyombo’s tip-in tied it at 95 with 3:22 left. Bryant responded with a three-point play to put the Lakers ahead for good with 1:26 on the clock.
The Bobcats had one more chance to pull it out after getting the rebound of Bryant’s missed 21-footer and calling timeout. But Howard blocked Walker’s 3-foot layup, Henderson failed to convert on his offensive rebound, and Ben Gordon misfired badly on a desperation 3 at the buzzer.
The Bobcats, who haven’t shot 50 percent or better from the field in any game this season, finished at 40 percent in the opener of a four-game western road trip. They led 58-53 at intermission after a 21-7 run over the final 5:23 of the half.
Sessions shot 7 for 13 in his return to Staples Center. He played 23 games for the Lakers last season after he was acquired in a trade on March 15 — the same day the Lakers acquired Hill from Houston.
“It was just another game,” Sessions said. “I had a short period of time here, and it was great. But it came and went, and I’m looking forward to what I’ve got going on now in Charlotte.”
Sessions had 11 points in the second, including a three-point play, a 3-pointer and two free throws in the final 2:52 of the quarter. The Bobcats signed him as a free agent in July, two days after Los Angeles acquired two-time MVP Steve Nash in a trade from Phoenix.
Nash has missed the last 24 games with a non-displaced fracture in his left leg, but is hoping to return to the lineup against the Knicks in the nationally televised game.
NOTES: Bryant’s next 30-point game will make him the fifth player in NBA history with at least 400 of them. … The Lakers are 7-9 since D’Antoni took over as head coach. He was 5-11 in his first 16 games with Denver, 4-12 with Phoenix and 8-8 with the Knicks. … Bryant recorded his 600th career block when he rejected Biyombo’s shot with 4:55 left in the second quarter. … The Lakers have beaten Charlotte three straight times — all at home — after losing eight of the previous 10 meetings. … Bryant was 11 for 24 from the field. The Lakers are 4-10 when he has missed 10 or more shots.