Brown, Bryant Lead Lakers Over Hornets
L.A. Lakers 105, New Orleans/Oklahoma City 94
LOS ANGELES, March 26 (Ticker) -- Los Angeles Lakers fans are used to giving standing ovations to Kobe Bryantand occasionally to Lamar Odom. Coming out of their seats for Kwame Brown is a new concept.
The Lakers continued to receive strong play from Bryant and Odom, but it was Brown's 17 points on flawless shooting that sparked a 105-94 victory over the plummeting New Orleans Hornets.
However, it was the play of Brown - who has had his ups and downs since entering the league as the top overall pick in 2001 - that fueled the Lakers' fourth straight win and gave the team's playoff hopes a major boost.
"I think I've done whatever they have asked me to do here," said Brown, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Washington. "They wanted me to run, rebound and defend which I know is not the fan-favorite type of work, but now coach is asking me to score a little bit too. I think I've picked up that opportunity and I have been doing a good job."
"It has just been a process for Kwame," Bryant added. "He is stepping up and making plays in the low-post offense, which is extremely beneficial for us. He has been solid all year but now he is putting points on the board."
Brown made all seven of his shots from the field, adding six rebounds and two blocks without a turnover in 38 impressive minutes before leaving to a warm ovation with 4:48 remaining. Still only 23 years old, Brown is averaging 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak.
"He is coming up with some key plays for us," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "And at the offensive end, he is doing things that help him finish at the basket. When a player plays extended minutes, you fall into that rhythm. Kwame has set himself up to have this sort of success."
Since starting center Chris Mihm injured his ankle earlier this month, Brown has helped the Lakers to a 5-3 mark, shooting a blistering 67 percent (37-of-55) along the way.
"It is just a different mind set," Brown said. "I am just trying to take advantage of the opportunity. Chris is out and we didn't want to have a letdown. I've been working on my post moves all year, but when you come off the bench you are not asked to execute that role of a scorer. Now with Chris out, that is 10-to-11 points that are missing."
The hot stretch has put Los Angeles (38-34) - which missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 11 years - two games ahead of Sacramento (35-35) for seventh place in the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, the Hornets (32-36) fell two games behind the Kings for eighth place. They have lost 11 of their last 12 games and appear to be a long shot for the postseason.
"Tonight was a really big game," Hornets forward P.J. Brown said. "We still have a chance for the playoffs even though we are not playing well right now. We play tough at times but we have our inconsistencies in the game, especially our defense which has been our Achilles heel the last 16 games."
One bright spot for the Hornets continues to be the play of third-year forward David West, who collected 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Rookie Chris Paul contributed 17 points and six assists and P.J. Brown added 12 points for the Hornets.
In a game that featured eight lead changes and 14 ties, Los Angeles gained some separation by closing the third quarter on a 10-4 run, during which Odom made a 3-pointer and two free throws, to take a 83-75 lead into the final period.
The Hornets drew within 87-80 on a basket by West with 10:14 to play. But the Lakers responded with eight straight points, capped by Odom's two free throws with 5:54 left, to end any hopes of a comeback.
"We play hard and really try to do the right things," P.J. Brown said. "But it's the little mistakes, especially on the defensive end. It just takes a team effort to pull through these tough times."
Brian Cook scored 12 points and Smush Parker handed out eight assists for the Lakers, who shot over 50 percent (33-of-65) and had 24 assists against just nine turnovers.
Bryant left the game in the final minute after feeling a twinge in his back. The injury is not considered serious.
"My back was acting up," Bryant said. "So I had to get on top of if right away and take care of it to be ready for our next game (Thursday against San Antonio). I couldn't run, couldn't jump or make any movement at all. But don't worry. I'll be ready."