Paul leads way for Hornets, who withstand Lakers' rally

NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul got clearance to play more than in any game since his return from a knee injury and the Hornets came away with one of their most impressive victories of the season.

Paul registered his first double-double since returning from injury with 15 points and 13 assists, and New Orleans led most of the way in a surprising 108-100 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.

"I knew going into the game I was going to get to play a little bit more," said Paul, who had been limited to 30 or fewer minutes in his previous three outings since returning from a left meniscus tear that sidelined him for 25 games. He played a little more than 39 minutes against the Lakers.

"I didn't have to be worried about being over my minutes and stuff like that, so I was getting a little bit more comfortable."

The Hornets were eliminated from playoff contention with a lopsided loss to Portland in their previous game, but took the court with renewed enthusiasm against the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who drew a sellout crowd and several celebrities to the arena, including movie stars Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker.

"We had all the fans here and different things like that," Paul said. "I wish we could get that kind of crowd when Memphis was here and not just the Lakers. But it was great energy and a good win for us."

David West scored 20 points for New Orleans, while Marcus Thornton had 18 points and fellow rookie Darren Collison, a former UCLA standout, added 17 points against his hometown team.

Kobe Bryant had 31 points and Pau Gasol added 26 points and 22 rebounds, but they didn't have much help as the Lakers trailed throughout the final three quarters and fell behind by as much as 17 points in the fourth before losing for the second time in three games.

"We just didn't play well," a visibly frustrated Bryant said tersely and repeatedly until he was asked why he had so little to say.

"It's for my own good," he said.

Bryant was called for five fouls and bickered frequently with officials.

Gasol and Lamar Odom blamed the loss on a combination of defensive lapses and poor overall shooting.

"You've got to play defense," Odom said. "If we don't do the intangibles, we need to depend on our shooting to win games and we're not always going to shoot well."

Added Gasol, "We need to cover each other's back a little more. We need to scramble and bring that energy on to the defensive end. ... We got some good looks offensively. Most of the time we would knock those shots down, but tonight they didn't really fall."

They did fall for the Hornets, who outshot the Lakers 49 percent to 42 percent as Los Angeles was hurt by 7-of-29 shooting from 3-point range.

Thornton and James Posey each had three 3-pointers for the Hornets, who hit 10 of 23 3-point attempts while snapping a two-game skid. Posey finished with 13 points and Emeka Okafor grabbed 13 rebounds.

Ron Artest scored 14 points and Odom 10 for Los Angeles, but the Lakers did not have a point from a reserve until Jordan Farmar's 3-pointer with 2:42 left in the third quarter, which cut New Orleans' lead to 66-61.

The Hornets responded with eight straight points, capped by West's layup on a feed from Paul.

After Gasol's free throws pulled the Lakers to 74-63, Los Angeles was looking to cut it to single digits when Posey swooped in for a backside block on Gasol. Collison then hit a driving floater in a crowd while being fouled by Gasol. He converted the three-point play to widen New Orleans' lead to 77-63 heading into the fourth quarter.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson appeared ready to concede after Okafor tipped in West's miss to make it 87-70 with a little more than nine minutes left. Bryant joined Gasol on the bench, even thought the Lakers' reserves were being outscored 31-5 to that point. The Lakers then scored 11 straight points, the last when Bryant checked back in just in time to put back Farmar's missed free throw, cutting it to 87-81 with 5:42 still remaining.

Darius Songaila, who had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, then hit a jumper to snap the run. After Farmar hit another 3, West banked in a tough fade over Odom.

Artest then missed his second 3-point attempt in three possessions and the Hornets began rebuilding their lead, then closed out the win by hitting 12 of 14 free throws in the last 1:17.

Game notes
Hornets owner George Shinn, who has been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer for several months, said he recently learned he is cancer free and was sitting courtside at the game, next to Willis. ... Prior to tip-off, Jackson said Lakers forward Luke Walton, who has been out with a pinched nerve in his back, is expected to be back at practice next week and could start doing some court work by Thursday. ... Jackson said center Andrew Bynum, out with a left Achilles' strain, only began walking without discomfort a couple days ago. "I haven't put any timetable on Andrew at all," Jackson said, adding that he does not believe Bynum needs to play before the playoffs begin. ... The Lakers conclude a five-game road trip at Atlanta on Wednesday.