Lakers-Hornets Game 1: New Orleans 109, Lakers 100 (final)
The Lakers got the opponent they wanted, and now they have exactly what they were fearing, a genuine first-round test.
What happened to San Antonio at the hands of Memphis a few hours earlier managed to unfold at Staples Center this afternoon. The injury-riddled and underdog Hornets defeated the Lakers, 109-100, on Sunday afternoon despite 34 points from Kobe Bryant.
Game 2 is on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Point guard Chris Paul led New Orleans with one of his vintage performances, falling three rebounds short of a triple-double. Paul had 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals while getting a huge assist from the Hornets' bench.
Reserve center Aaron Gray and point guard Jarrett Jack combined for 27 points.
New Orleans shot 52% from the field and had only three turnovers. The Lakers committed 13 turnovers.
If New Orleans loses this one, the Hornets can only blame themselves for stumbling at the free-throw line.
The Hornets are 13 of 22 from the line, while the Lakers are 22 of 29.
Biggest shot of this stretch? Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer to cut the Hornets’ lead to three with 6:20 left. Bryant is now at 34 points.
One other telling statistic: The Lakers were 7-18 in the regular season when they trailed heading into the fourth quarter.
Getting awfully quiet here in Staples Center.
Hornets 73, Lakers 72 (End of third quarter)
Kobe Bryant carried the baton for most of the third quarter and reserve Shannon Brown took over in the final 42.4 seconds, scoring four points in rapid-fire fashion,
Bryant, despite his injury woes, had 11 points in the third quarter. He is 10-of-17 shooting from the field for 27 points.
The Hornets have two players in foul trouble: center Emeka Okafor and power forward Carl Landry have four each. And the other issue of major concern for New Orleans is former Laker Trevor Ariza, who is two for 13 with six points.
Hornets 63, Lakers 57 (5:53 remaining in third quarter)
The Lakers pulled to within a point with 9:13 left in the third quarter but the Hornets managed to extend the lead back to six.
New Orleans has not trailed in Game 1.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant, who provided a big scare at the end of the first half, was back in action in the third quarter after hitting the back of his head and neck on an empty courtside chair. The chair happened to be next to AEG chief Tim Leiweke.
Hornets 55, Lakers 47 (end of first half)
Kobe Bryant gave the fans a big scare at the end of the second quarter after he scored a basket and then fell into the first row of courtside seats.
Bryant, who appeared to strike the back of his head and neck area on an empty chair, stayed face down until the halftime buzzer sounded. He eventually got up with help and walked to the trainer's room holding the back of his neck.
Bryant scored 16 points in the first half, which ended with Chris Paul making a three-pointer on the Hornets' final possession only to be outdone by a Ron Artest's half-court shot that just beat the buzzer.
Pau Gasol also left the second quarter with a cut beneath his right eye after colliding with the chin of New Orleans center, and former teammate, DJ Mbenga.
Gasol had only four points on one-for-five shooting.
Paul led New Orleans with 11 points, 10 assists and three steals.
Hornets 37, Lakers 33 (6:05 left in first half)
Though Kobe Bryant took control early in the second quarter, the Lakers still trailed.
The Lakers were just OK on defense.
They shot 43.3% from the field early in the second.
Hornets 33, Lakers 24 (8:46 left in second quarter)
The Lakers continued to play sluggish basketball in the first half of Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs.
They fell behind by nine points early in the second quarter at Staples Center.
The Lakers' bench didn't provide a quick spark for the Lakers, especially Lamar Odom.
Hornets 26, Lakers 24 (end of first quarter)
Though the Lakers started the game slow, they finished the first quarter in the right way.
Pau Gasol stole a pass from Hornets point guard Chris Paul late in the first quarter and threw a pass to a streaking Shannon Brown for a left-handed layup to beat the buzzer.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with nine points in the first quarter.
Hornets 19, Lakers 17 (2:07 left in first quarter)
When Andrew Bynum picked up his second foul with 5:05 left in the first quarter, he was angry.
When he took a seat on the Lakers' bench, Bynum yelled at nobody in particular and looked disgusted.
He had scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked one shot.
Bynum looked like he was ready to play.
Then with 2:07 left in the first, Matt Barnes checked into the game after missing the final two regular-season games with a sore right knee.
Lakers 13, Hornets 12 (5:52 left in first quarter)
The Lakers started slow, missing their first two shots while falling behind, 12-4.
But with Derek Fisher making a mid-range jumper and a three-pointer, the Lakers claimed a 13-12 lead over the New Orleans with 5:52 left in the first quarter.
That forced the Hornets to call a timeout because the Lakers were on a 9-0 run.
The Lakers might have swept the New Orleans Hornets in four games during the regular season, but Los Angeles doesn't want any of its players thinking the first-round playoff series will be easy.
With the Lakers ready to face the Hornets this afternoon at Staples Center in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't want to talk about his team sweeping New Orleans.
"They are an athletic team," Jackson said. "They can get up and they can create turnovers. They can get steals and get run-outs."
Nornally, Jackson wears a championship ring from the last year his team won a title.
This time, Jackson wore his championship ring from 1973, the one he won as a player with the New York Knicks.
Jackson said he wore the ring for "personal reasons."
Jackson also said center Andrew Bynum, who missed the last regular-season game with a bone bruise in his right knee, was going to play.
Jackson added said that reserve forward Matt Barnes, who missed the last two games with a sore right knee that required fluid to be drained, was going to be on the active roster.
-- Broderick Turner
Photo: Hornets forward Trevor Ariza gets inside Lakers power forward Pau Gasol for a layup during Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times