The Los Angeles Lakers learned to win without Kobe Bryant at the beginning of the season.

It's possible that they might be without their leader again, but the star guard's injured ankle has improved and he could play Wednesday night when the Lakers (12-5) host the New Orleans Hornets (8-8).

Bryant suffered a sprained right ankle in the third quarter of Los Angeles' 101-87 win over Indiana on Monday. The injury, though, has turned out not to be as serious as it could have been.

``The ankle was better today, he showed some nice improvement,'' team spokesman John Black said Tuesday. ``The swelling has come down. We're still going to list him as day-to-day.''

Black said Bryant, who's averaged 23.0 points in 22 games against the Hornets, would probably be a gametime decision.

Bryant finished with a team-high 21 points Monday, but was forced to leave after landing awkwardly on Pacers center Jeff Foster's foot following a shot attempt.

If Bryant is unable to go against New Orleans, Los Angeles knows what to do.

The Lakers won consecutive games to start the season as Bryant recovered from offseason knee surgery. Lamar Odom led the way, picking up the slack by averaging 28.0 points and 11.0 rebounds in those contests.

That fast start coupled with plenty of home games to begin the year has allowed the Lakers to surge to the top of the Pacific Division. They've won three in a row and eight of 10.

Los Angeles, in the midst of a four-game homestand, is 10-2 at Staples Center. The Lakers are playing eight in a row there, including a ``road'' game against their co-tenants, the Clippers.

The Lakers have won five straight at Staples Center against the Hornets, and nine of the last 10 matchups in Los Angeles. The Hornets haven't scored 100 points in Los Angeles since a 103-94 victory over the Lakers on March 24, 1996.

Overall, Los Angeles has won 17 of the last 21 games against New Orleans, who enter on a five-game losing streak.

The Hornets (8-8) had been held to 83 points or less in their previous four games before falling 111-108 to Chicago on Friday.

Chris Paul had 25 points, a career-high 18 assists and 11 rebounds for his third career triple-double, while Rasual Butler scored 26 of his career-high 33 points in the second half against the Bulls, but it wasn't enough to rally New Orleans from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit.

``I think we showed a lot of fight in us, but at the end of the game we still didn't get the win,'' Paul said. ``It's all about wins and losses.''

This is the first of a three-game road trip for the Hornets, who have lost five of their last seven away from home.

New Orleans announced Tuesday that guard Bobby Jackson will miss about two weeks with a cracked left rib. Jackson is averaging 10.9 points and 4.1 assists this season.


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