Lakers blow past Hornets without Gasol, Bynum
Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson both thought the injury-depleted Lakers would get a stern early season test from the New Orleans Hornets. Instead, their visitors barely put up a fight.
Yes, DJ Mbenga and Shannon Brown were just that good.
Bryant scored 28 points, Brown added 15 and Los Angeles thrived again without its top two big men, beating the New Orleans Hornets 104-88 Sunday night.
Mbenga had 10 points and 12 rebounds in his fourth career NBA start for the defending champions, who easily won their fifth straight game and second in a row without injured center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol.
Before he took it easy after halftime, Bryant replaced those 14 feet of big men by repeatedly getting the ball in the post. He also got strong efforts from players who sometimes don't play at all for the full-strength Lakers.
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"We believed this was going to be a really, really tough game," Bryant said. "Because of that, everybody's antennas were up, and everybody was really focused. We got a lot of help from DJ, Shannon, all the bench guys. There are going to be nights when we struggle, and we'll need their help."
Bryant and Jackson haven't forgotten the Hornets were Los Angeles' near-equals just two years ago, when the teams battled down the stretch for the Western Conference's best record. But these Hornets couldn't keep up as Los Angeles opened a 27-point lead in the third quarter and coasted to a 6-1 start, with Bryant sitting down for good with nearly seven minutes still to play.
"We had a little easier time than I had anticipated," Jackson said. "We were really prepared for a rush that they make in the second half, and they never got to that."
After scoring exactly 41 points in three of the Lakers' previous four games, Bryant scored 26 in the first half, repeatedly capitalizing down low with ease against Devin Brown's defense. Bryant went scoreless in the third when New Orleans finally double-teamed him, but he rotated the ball to open shooters for five 3-pointers in the period - three by Brown.
"When Kobe gets going in the post, it creates a lot of opportunities," Brown said. "You've just got to knock them down."
After leading by 17 points during the first half, Los Angeles opened the second half on a 17-3 run with two of Brown's 3-pointers. The backup guard added a few rim-shaking dunks while scoring all his points after halftime. Even Mbenga, the Lakers' backup center with rudimentary skills, matched his career scoring high and fell one shy of his NBA rebounding best while making his second straight start.
Chris Paul had 15 points and nine assists for the Hornets, who made just 36.5 percent of their shots while opening a three-game West Coast road trip with their fourth loss in five games.
"They're a really good team, and we're a team that's a work in progress," Paul said. "They beat us in all aspects of the game. Kobe got going and Mbenga got going, and they looked like the Lakers. ... We're just trying to find something that works. We're missing defense and the ability to score."
New Orleans coach Byron Scott began the trip by bumping shooting guard Morris Peterson from the starting lineup in favor of Devin Brown, who had played just eight minutes all season. Peterson started the Hornets' first six games, but made just 34.1 percent of his shots while playing defense that didn't please Scott.
Immediately after the opening tip, Devin Brown turned the ball over to Bryant for a drive and a dunk.
Scott previewed another change after the game, announcing his intention to replace Julian Wright with Peja Stojakovic in Monday's starting lineup against the Clippers.
"I thought (Brown) defended Kobe about as well as you can, but Kobe is just an unbelievable basketball player," Scott said. "The third quarter is killing us. This is two straight games that we came out and the other team just kind of dominated us in that quarter. We've got to solve that problem quick."
Bynum's strained right elbow has sidelined him for the past two games, while Gasol's strained right hamstring has kept him out since the preseason. Both will have three more days to heal before Thursday's visit from surprising Phoenix, the early Pacific Division co-leaders with Los Angeles.
NOTES: New Orleans didn't even dress Peterson, moving him to the inactive list. ... The Lakers are just two games into a stretch with 14 of 16 games at Staples Center. ... Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sat together on the baseline.