Hornets 57-55

Its not natural to think of New Orleans as an NBA powerhouse team, but it might be time.

The Hornets, who started this season with three consecutive victories, looked solid on both ends of the court Tuesday night and held a 57-55 lead over the Lakers at halftime at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant had 11 points and was the only Laker to score in double figures in the first half. Andrew Bynum had four points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench.

Peja Stojakovic led the Hornets with 13 points.

The Lakers, playing without both Kwame Brown and Maurice Evans, played with little offensive rhythm in the first quarter. Much like in the last two games, the second unit came in and provided a boost, but every time the Lakers staged a mini-rally, the Hornets had an answer and maintained a slim lead.

The Lakers scored six points in the final 33 seconds of the first half, and thought they had tied the game just before halftime. With 1.1 seconds left, Luke Waltons full-court pass found Ronny Turiaf, who scored on a layup, but a video review showed that Turiaf released the ball just after time expired.

Brown is out with a heel injury, but is expected to return for Fridays game. Chris Mihm started at center in place of Brown. Evans, who has a sore back, might also miss Fridays game.

The Lakers missed Brown, particularly since Mihm was in effective in eight first-quarter minutes. Coach Phil Jackson was reluctant to start Bynum, under the theory that Bynum would be more effective with his minutes limited, but Bynum clearly outplayed Mihm in the first half and provided a boost.

New Orleans, which led by 10 after one quarter, saw its lead trimmed to four on Vladimir Radmanovics 3-pointer three minutes into the quarter, but the Hornets quickly regained a 42-32 lead.

The Lakers twice more cut the Hornets lead to four points. The Hornets led 55-49 with one minute remaining, but Walton hit a 3-pointer and then Bryant was fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Bryant made all three free throws but Chris Paul made a layup with 1.1 seconds left for a 57-55 lead.

Injuries couldnt be totally blamed for the Lakers slow start. Ball movement, a key part of their success in consecutive victories over Phoenix and Utah, was lacking in the opening period Tuesday.

The Hornets made three of their first four shots, took an early 7-2 lead and never trailed for the rest of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Lakers bogged down on offense and could generate little rhythm.

Bryant didnt take his first shot until 3:24 remained in the quarter. He made it, but by then the Lakers were down by seven points. The Hornets extended their lead to its biggest point, at 32-19, in the final minute when Stojakovic hit a 3-pointer and Melvin Ely made two free throws.

Jordan Farmar eased the Lakers pain a bit when he took an inbounds pass with one second remaining, hit a turnaround jumper and drew a foul. Farmar made the free throw to narrow the Hornets lead to 10.

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