The Lakers had their biggest test of the season thus far in New Orleans, and passed with flying colors by dropping the Hornets 93-86. It was supposed to be a tough spot for L.A. They were playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road, against a rested and talented Hornets squad that was supposed to be hungry to show that last season was no fluke, and that they've arrived as one of the league's elite teams. They made it a game in the fourth quarter, but before then they looked like anything but a contender.
L.A. jumped out to a 21-point halftime lead, thanks to more of the great team defense we've seen from this club through their first six games. The Hornets were down 51-30 at the break, but their coach must have read them the riot act in the locker room, because they came out on a tear to start the second half. They opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run, before the Lakers were able to stabilize and get back under control, increasing their lead to as many as 23 before the end of the period. But in the fourth, the Hornets made another run, and this time made it almost all the way back before Kobe Bryant saved the day.
New Orleans closed to within three points at 83-80 with just over a minute left, before Kobe hit a three-pointer -- with the shot clock winding down, and with James Posey right in his face -- to effectively seal it for the Lakers. Bryant knew it was a tough shot, but felt he was "due" so he took it anyway.
"I just wanted to shoot it in his face. I knew I was due."
"I knew Posey was going to sit on my arm, so I just had to back him up and try to shoot it,'' Bryant explained. "I knew it was going to be a tough shot because I had Posey draped all over me, so I just needed to focus on the basket and try to put it in.''
This game was virtually a carbon copy of how things played out the last time these two teams met, which was played near the end of last season at Staples. In that one, the Lakers had a 30-point second quarter lead which the Hornets were able to cut to one in the fourth, before losing a close one.
Phil Jackson, obviously not thrilled that his team let their opponents back into the game after seemingly putting it out of reach early, was a little less than excited by the turn of events.
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"We sucked the joy out of a good victory,'' he said.