Rapid Reaction: Lakers 104, Hornets 96

LOS ANGELES -- With all the 5-0 talk surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers' finish to the season, it was questionable whether L.A. would even have enough fight left to get the first game toward that goal.

The severely sub-.500 New Orleans would seem like an easy opponent to start things off against, but then again, the Hornets led by 25 against L.A. back in March before Kobe Bryant scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to key a ridiculous rally.

He one-upped himself Tuesday, scoring 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to put the pesky Hornets away.

How it happened: L.A. led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter before New Orleans used a 14-0 run to erase that to take a 50-45 lead into the locker room. Things were tied at 70-all to start the fourth quarter before Bryant went on a personal 7-0 run, connecting on three straight jumpers, to give L.A. a small cushion, and he extended that spurt to score the Lakers' first 14 points of the final period as the Hornets kept it close.

What it means: The Utah Jazz did their part, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-80 on Tuesday. L.A. is back to holding a half-game lead over the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot as the games continue to be checked off the schedule. The Lakers are back to being in the driver's seat when it comes to meeting their postseason goal; now they just have to stay on the road.

Hits: Metta World Peace returned to the lineup after missing just 12 days following knee surgery. Remarkable stuff. He finished with just four points and one assist, but he was able to play 15 minutes and take some of the load off the starters.

Antawn Jamison scored 13 points off the bench, including a crucial five straight with less than five minutes to go in the fourth when L.A. was getting offense out of only Bryant to that point.

Misses: Earl Clark scored zero points, going 0-for-3 from the field in 24 minutes while picking up four fouls. He did collect five assists, however, often hooking up with Dwight Howard.

Howard had problems with the whistle-blowers, too, getting called for five fouls. He did notch 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes, however.

Howard had a careless violation with 2:16 left, stepping on the endline when he went to inbound the ball, thus turning it over when it was only a six-point game.

L.A. had 16 turnovers leading to 12 points for the Hornets.

Stat of the game: Every Lakers starter had at least four assists as L.A. recorded dimes on 26 of its 40 baskets.

Up next: It's on to Portland, where the Lakers will try to elude the hold the Rose Garden seems to have over them. They also will attempt to sweep a back-to-back for the first time all season. "Save the best for last, probably," World Peace said. He better hope so.