Lakers grind out win over Hornets, even playoff series

Associated Press
4/21/2011 2:39:24 AM
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LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant barely made a ripple on offence for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was too busy ensuring Chris Paul didn't make another huge splash that could have put the Lakers in a cavernous playoff hole.

Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Lamar Odom scored 16 points, and the Lakers survived quiet offensive games from their two biggest stars to even their first-round playoff series with an 87-78 victory over the New Orleans Hornets in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Ron Artest added 15 points as the two-time defending champions rebounded from a stunning nine-point loss in the series opener with Bryant leading an improved defensive effort against Paul, who still had 20 points and nine assists after shredding Los Angeles' defence in Game 1.

"We stayed in front of him for the most part," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He made some big plays for them ... but I think we did a better job being attentive to him, and that's as good as it gets right now."

The Lakers spent the past two days scheming ways to prevent a repeat of Paul's 33-point, 14-assist dissection of their defence in Game 1. Bryant's snarling intensity was obvious when he took his turn guarding Paul, jumping on him with full-court pressure and even battling him for inconsequential inbound passes midway through the game.

"We had a good rhythm today," Bryant said. "We found something we can hang our hats on in terms of the intensity and the aggression that we played with. Going up to New Orleans, I think that environment will bring it out."

Game 3 is Friday night in New Orleans.

With Bynum excelling in the low post and Odom leading strong bench play, the Lakers overcame the offensive inadequacies of their all-stars. Bryant managed just 11 points, barely shooting the ball in the first half, and Pau Gasol had eight in his second straight poor game.

"It shows experience and maturity," said Odom, who combined with Bynum to make 16 of their 23 shots. "It shows how we've got better, how the team has grown. It was important for all of us to improve and make an impact."

Trevor Ariza scored 22 points for the Hornets, who committed 16 turnovers after making just three in Game 1. The seventh-seeded Hornets finally resembled a team missing top scorer David West, struggling for consistent offence for much of the game in front of an energized Staples Center crowd.

"Certainly it was their defence," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "I thought they were more physical. There was a focus tonight to get up in the ball. They trapped Chris, and we didn't take advantage of it until the second half."

The Lakers didn't exactly stop Paul. The four-time all-star still had nine points and five assists in the first half, yet Los Angeles managed to limit his playmaking effectiveness on the pick-and-roll plays that hurt them in the opener.

"They tried to shrink the court on me," said Paul, who hit buzzer-beating three-pointers in the second and third quarters. "They didn't want me to wiggle and dance with the ball that much. It worked for them, to a certain extent."

Carl Landry scored 12 points, and Emeka Okafor had seven points while battling constant foul trouble that forced backup centre Aaron Gray to play 23 minutes despite a sprained right ankle.

The second-seeded Lakers nursed a small lead throughout the second half largely thanks to Odom, who was in top form in his first game since winning the NBA's Sixth Man award on Tuesday. After Bynum scored 12 points in the first half, Odom drove the Lakers' offence down the stretch.

"Losing the first game, that put it right back on us," Bynum said. "When we have that sense, everybody goes out and plays a harder game. (But) our go-to guys are Kobe and Pau, and this team is doing a good job of stopping them right now."

Bryant managed just one field goal in the first half and only reached double figures on a dramatic dunk with 3:39 to play. Gasol foundered for the second straight game against the smallish Hornets, making just 2 of 10 shots.

But the Lakers got a boost during a 14-2 second-quarter run from a bench that barely impacted Game 1, with backup point guard Steve Blake returning from a weeklong bout of chicken pox to rack up five assists in six minutes.

After New Orleans committed an NBA playoff record-low three turnovers in Game 1, the Hornets had that many in the first quarter alone, and 10 by halftime. Yet they trailed by just six points at halftime, and Paul's second buzzer-beater trimmed the Lakers' lead to seven points heading to the fourth quarter even though New Orleans managed just 15 points in the third.

"Obviously we got their attention in the first game, and their intensity was raised up a little bit more," said New Orleans' Jarrett Jack, who had six points. "It's going to be like that throughout the rest of the series."

NOTES: Bynum fouled out with 12.6 seconds left. ... Odom was presented his Sixth Man trophy to a standing ovation before the game. Odom then had the trophy put on display on the Staples Center concourse so fans could take a picture with it. ... Fans near courtside included Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr., Lil Wayne, David Beckham, Will Ferrell, Zac Efron and Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis.

Andrew Bynum  (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)


(Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)
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