Kobe has 26 as Lakers make quick work of Hornets

NEW ORLEANS -- Kobe Bryant dribbled with his back to the basket while James Posey hounded him -- a scene reminiscent of last season's NBA Finals, when Posey played for Boston.

Bryant hardly looked haunted by the memory, though, throwing a quick shoulder fake before twisting in the air and draining a turnaround jumper.

Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 20, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New Orleans Hornets 100-87 on Tuesday night. The performance was more dominant than the final score indicated and precisely what the Lakers needed after stumbling through much of a four-game road trip.

"We were in a great rhythm. You know, the season's a long season so you're going to have peaks and valleys. That's just the way the season goes," Bryant said. "You'll have stretches where you play extremely well, stretches where you play well, stretches where you play badly. It's a roller-coaster ride. You've just got to stick with it."

Using swarming defense to bottle up Chris Paul for much of the game, the Lakers stormed to a 19-point halftime lead and led by 20 after Bryant's jumper over Posey early in the fourth quarter.

The thorough beating of their closest pursuers in the Western Conference could be seen as a warning to the defending champion Boston Celtics, who'll ride their 19-game winning streak into Los Angeles for a much-anticipated Christmas Day contest.

"Any time you play a team like New Orleans, which is a team that a lot of people expect to be there in the end, you definitely want to send a message," Bryant said.

Paul finished with 17 points and 10 assists for the Hornets, who had won 11 of their previous 13 games and were looking to move closer to the Lakers in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles (23-5) had dropped a pair of games on its road trip and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win at Memphis on Monday. On Tuesday, the Lakers won convincingly for the second time in two meetings with the Hornets -- both times in New Orleans -- and ended the Hornets' six-game home winning streak.

"Once again we dug ourselves a hole and tried to fight out of it the rest of the game," Paul said. "It's tough when you play good teams to do that."

The testiness of this budding rivalry also manifested itself in technical fouls.

Tyson Chandler was assessed a technical in the first quarter for shoving Sasha Vujacic. Rasual Butler and Gasol were assessed double technicals for arguing in the second quarter. Posey was assessed another for standing over Bryant after knocking the Lakers' star down while clearing him out of the lane.

"We got so emotionally involved in the game that we stopped playing against the Lakers and started moaning and groaning about every call," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "As a young group we can't get that emotionally involved in the game and we've got to play better."

New Orleans had trouble stopping Bryant without fouling him. He went 12-of-15 on free throws. Gasol was 8-of-10 from the field.

Andrew Bynum scored 13 points for Los Angeles, which also got 11 points from Derek Fisher and 10 from Trevor Ariza.

Butler scored 17 points for New Orleans. Morris Peterson added 16 and David West 13 on 5-of-15 shooting.

"We sustained our effort against Paul, trying to keep him out of the paint," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The big deal is David West. We really wanted to get that matchup the right way and Pau has done a good job on him before. ... He's a 20-point-a-game scorer and we were able to keep that down a bit."

Bryant went to the bench only 4:10 into the game with two fouls, but the Hornets could not take advantage. The Lakers maintained a slim lead most of the quarter.

The Lakers began to take command in the second quarter after when Ariza hit a 3 from the corner and Bynum followed his own miss with a dunk. Soon after, Los Angeles went on a 9-0 run that included Fisher's tough floater in the lane over Chandler and a pair of jumpers by Ariza.

Later in the period, Bryant drove through a crowd for a double pump reverse dunk while the overflow crowd of 18,405 gasped as if collectively punched in the gut. The Hornets looked a little wobbly as well, turning the ball over five times in the period while shooting 5-of-13.

The Lakers, who had eight turnovers in the opening quarter, didn't lose the ball once in the second and scored on 16 of 21 possessions.

In the final minute of the period, Bryant ran down the clock while drawing a triple team to the right of the foul line, then passed to Gasol in the corner for a rare 3-point attempt by the 7-foot center. The shot dropped straight through (only the 18th 3 of his career), giving the Lakers a 56-37 lead at halftime.

"Two of our worst games have been against this team," Scott lamented. "It could be us, it could be them. It could be both."

Game notes
Hornets swingman Peja Stojakovic missed his third straight game with back soreness. Backup point guard Antonio Daniels (knee) also sat out for New Orleans. ... Paul, who owns the NBA record for consecutive regular season games with a steal at 108, had five steals in the first quarter. ... Phil Jackson got his 999th career victory in 1,422 games as a coach. Should Jackson reach 1,000 victories in the next 11 games, he would become the fastest coach to do so, passing Pat Riley, who did it in 1,434 games.