NEW ORLEANS — Before the New Orleans Hornets embarked on their current road trip, it seemed they had a good chance to win at least one game.
It appeared that a victory might come against the dysfunctional Los Angeles Lakers, who had lost four in a row and 10 of 12 games this month.
However, that was before Kobe “Magic” Bryant emerged for the Lakers, whom the Hornets (15-29) meet at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in Los Angeles after the Hornets’ impressive win Sunday at the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Obviously tired of all the losing, particularly against bad teams, Bryant suddenly transformed himself into more of a facilitator, and it has paid immediate dividends.
Bryant had 14 assists to go with 14 points and nine rebounds in leading the Lakers (18-25) past the Utah Jazz 102-84 Friday night in Los Angeles. He came back with 14 assists, 21 points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s 105-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the best team in the Western Conference.
“I just decided to take some of the pressure off (point guard) Steve (Nash) at the beginning of the play instead of waiting to get the ball at the end of the play,” said Bryant, who surpassed 30,000 points in his last game against the Hornets, a Lakers victory on Dec. 5. “But I think the big thing is we’re able to get stops and offset some of (opponents’) strategies.”
It is odd that Bryant would choose now to change his game from scoring machine to a guard who helps create opportunities for teammates in a more deliberate and direct way. Years ago, when Shaquille O’Neal was still with the Lakers, Magic Johnson suggested to Bryant that he seek to get more triple doubles as a way of enabling O’Neal and Bryant to better coexist on the court.
The Hornets also had a transformation of sorts against Memphis, returning to their ways as a defensive-minded team in holding the Grizzlies to 83 points.
The Grizzlies, playing without point guard Mike Conley, who sprained an ankle in the first quarter, were held to 15 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-21 shooting.
The defensive effort was complemented by a strong performance by the Hornets’ bench, which scored 51 points, led by forward Ryan Anderson (22 points) and power forward/center Jason Smith (16).
The Hornets had lost their previous two games.
“When you have character guys, they always bounce back,” coach Monty Williams said.
The Lakers likely will present a challenge for the Hornets’ defense, however, particularly in light of how smoothly Los Angeles’ offense is going now.
“Kobe starts it,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Sharing the ball, he hasn’t forced a shot. He’s moving the ball. He’s playing great defense. It starts with him, but then everybody else is contributing.”
The Hornets next play Wednesday night at Utah (24-20), which had won its past six home games heading into Monday night’s game against Houston in Salt Lake City. Before Friday’s loss to the Lakers, the Jazz had won four games in a row. After beating Indiana in overtime on Sunday, Utah is 10-3 in January.
The teams have met twice this season, both times at New Orleans Arena.
The Hornets won on Nov. 2, 88-86, on a driving layup by Greivis Vasquez with one second left. The Jazz won 96-84 on Nov. 28.
The Hornets recalled small forward Darius Miller from the NBA Development League’s Iowa Energy. Miller, a rookie from Kentucky, was assigned to the Energy on Dec. 31 after his playing time with the Hornets had diminished, and Williams said he wanted him to continue playing and getting experience. Miller played 11 games with Iowa, starting eight, and averaged 9.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game.
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