LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers really think they're on to something, even if it's nothing revolutionary. They're gaining confidence in their newfound attitude and approach with each victory they're producing.
Not even a fantastic fourth-quarter rally by the New Orleans Hornets could shake Kobe's conviction that the Lakers have finally figured out a few things about their puzzling season.
Dwight Howard scored 24 points, Bryant had 14 points and 11 assists in another pass-first performance, and the Lakers hung on to beat New Orleans 111-106 Tuesday night for their first three-game winning streak in five weeks.
Earl Clark had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers (20-25), who jumped to an 18-point lead midway through the fourth quarter with their third straight game of patient passing and hard-nosed defense quarterbacked by Bryant. The fifth-leading scorer in NBA history has warmly embraced his new role as a playmaker — no surprise for somebody whose first basketball muse was Magic Johnson.
"It's working pretty well," said Bryant, whose 39 assists in the Lakers' last three games are the biggest three-game total of his 17-season career. "It's very easy for me to look over the defense and know where they're coming from, just kind of line my guys up in the right way and just pick them apart."
With Bryant running the show, the Lakers even survived a frenetic finish. Their lead dwindled to 102-101 with 2 minutes left shortly after an electric 16-2 run in a 2½ minute stretch by the Hornets, but Clark hit a layup and Steve Nash calmly buried a 3-pointer with 1:21 left to clinch Los Angeles' ninth straight win over New Orleans.
Nash had 12 points and five assists, while Antawn Jamison scored 16 points. Four-time All-Star Pau Gasol had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists as a reserve in the Lakers' final home game before a seven-game trip, their longest of the season, while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.
The trip should be daunting for the Lakers, who have lost 15 of 20 on the road this season, including seven straight since Christmas. Instead, they're optimistic about trying out their new approach in a hostile environment.
"We're doing a good job of not being selfish, and of doing whatever we can to help our team win," Howard said. "Things are clicking for us. Our offense is a lot smoother, and on defense we're really holding each other accountable."
Sounds simple — but the Lakers have rarely looked this good in their complex season.
Eric Gordon scored 18 of his 25 points in the first half for the Hornets, who got within one point on Greivis Vasquez's running jumper.