Lakers Prevail in NBA’s Return to New Orleans
L.A. Lakers 113, New Orleans/Oklahoma City 107
NEW ORLEANS, March 8 (Ticker) -- The "Big Easy" took another step toward getting back on its feet.
In the first professional sporting event in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city more than six months ago, the Hornets endured a 113-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, who received another big game from Kobe Bryant.
Prior to the game, Hornets veteran P.J. Brown addressed the crowd and thanked them for their support. There was a festive mood in the arena throughout, with numerous fan promotions held.
NBA commissioner David Stern attended, as did legends Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, Bob Pettit and Bill Walton, who were introduced to the crowd during timeouts. Also in attendance was Willis Reed, the Hornets' vice president of basketball operations.
"It was fun," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "We gave them a show. I was glad a lot of the NBA greats came, too."
The game was the first of three scheduled in New Orleans this season for the Hornets, who have played 27 homes games in Oklahoma City, one in Norman, Okla., and another in Baton Rouge, La. The Hornets also will play here on March 18 against Denver and three days later against the L.A. Clippers.
"New Orleans deserves a team," Bryant said. "There was a lot of electricity out there tonight. A lot of the Hornets haven't played here before, but we have, and this is a hot spot.
"That said, Oklahoma City, based on what's happened this season, is on fire, too."
The Hornets have averaged 18,411 in 28 Oklahoma games, including 15 sellouts.
Next season, the Hornets will play 35 games in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans. They are expected to return to New Orleans on a full-time basis for the 2007-08 season.
"It was a great crowd tonight," said Brown, the only Hornet still on the team after the franchise's move from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002. "They really stepped up and got behind us all night.
"People keep asking if we should move back here or do we like it in Oklahoma. I think those questions are a little unfair. We're trying to do the best we can. There are some very important issues other than professional basketball. People need houses and jobs. We have an opportunity to make it a better New Orleans."
The NBA's leading scorer, Bryant dampered some of the crowd's enthusiasm as he scored 18 of his 40 points in the final period.
In a decisive fourth-quarter surge, Bryant scored 13 straight Lakers points to help them take control. The last of those points was a tough fallaway from the right baseline over Speedy Claxton that gave the Lakers a 104-101 lead with 59 seconds remaining.
"I don't feel pressure," Bryant said. "I just go out and do what I do."
It was the fourth straight 40-point game and 19th this season for Bryant, who made 12-of-33 shots and 14-of-16 free throws. He was 7-of-11 from the floor in the fourth quarter after going 1-of-8 in the third period.
Odom added 18 points and Smush Parker 16 for Los Angeles (32-30), which remained 1˝ games in front of Sacramento for the Western Conference's final playoff berth and moved into a virtual tie with New Orleans (31-29) for seventh place.
David West scored 25 points, rookie Chris Paul had 22 and 10 assists and Claxton also scored 22 points for the Hornets, who have lost four straight games and six of eight.
"Incredible," Paul said of the atmosphere. "It was really tough to lose this one. The fans went above and beyond and were really motivated to help us. Our team is still part of New Orleans. We've still got New Orleans on our jerseys."