LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant looked around, drew in a breath and gathered himself. Time for one of the game's best closers to get to work with the score tied to start the fourth quarter.
He fueled a desperate rally with 23 of his 30 points in the last 12 minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New Orleans Hornets 104-96 on Tuesday night to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"Aw ... I got to go in again and I really didn't want to," Bryant said he was thinking. "It's about conserving energy. The more I can kind of lag in the weeds the better."
But that depends on his teammates.
"If you're making shots, I can sit back," Bryant said. "If you're playing (bad), I can't."
No Laker but Bryant made a shot in the first seven minutes of the fourth. He had just four points at halftime.
"It is really just about me making shots. It is not really the defense," said Bryant, who had ice on his left shoulder and both knees after the game. "They keyed in on my penetration, but I know I could range over the defense and get the shot. So, with games like this, when the jumper is falling, you have fourth quarters like I had."
Pau Gasol had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard added 19 points to help the Lakers move a half-game ahead of Utah for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. The Jazz lost to Oklahoma City 90-80 earlier in the evening, but they hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers.
"We were pretty effective wearing down their bigs, especially late in the game," Howard said. "We just needed this game. It was intense. We got four games left. We control our own destiny."
Bryant urged Gasol to position himself down low where he's most effective and stay put.
"I haven't gotten to the post as much as I did tonight all year long," he said. "My teammates looked for me."
Eric Gordon scored 22 points, making 10 of 11 free throws, before fouling out in the final seconds to lead five Hornets in double figures. Anthony Davis added 18 points and 14 rebounds, Ryan Anderson had 14 points, and Greivis Vasquez had 11 points and 11 assists.
Metta World Peace returned for the Lakers less than two weeks after undergoing left knee surgery and had four points in 15 minutes as they won their third in a row at home.
Bryant put on his usual show in the fourth quarter that began with the teams tied at 70-all. He scored the Lakers' first seven points for a 77-70 lead, drawing chants of "Kobe! Kobe!"