NEW ORLEANS — Dwight Howard was off the hook this time, and so were the Los Angeles Lakers.
Done in by “Hack-a-Dwight” fouls and blown fourth-quarter leads in their past two losses, neither was a concern on Wednesday night. The Lakers celebrated Kobe Bryant’s surpassing the career 30,000-point mark and then some, routing the Hornets 103-87 at New Orleans Arena in front of the Hornets’ first sellout crowd of the season.
The loss came after a game performance and encouraging victory Monday night against Milwaukee, but the Hornets simply were no match for the Lakers, who got a road victory — albeit against a young, rebuilding team after blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead Tuesday night in a loss at Houston.
“We needed it,” said Bryant, acknowledging his team’s 2-6 record in recent games.
After the game, Bryant said the milestone had him reflecting on all the hard work he has put in and how fortunate he has been. Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets but then traded to the Lakers for center Vlade Divac. Asked if the milestone coming against this franchise gave him great pleasure, Bryant said he was most mindful of “the irony.”
Like a number of opponents have done in beating Hornets this season, the Lakers took control in the third quarter.
“We were very active defensively,” Bryant said. “We were able to get some turnovers and opportunities, and from there we broke the game open.”
The loss was the 11th in 13 games for the Hornets, who play two more difficult opponents this week — the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday at the Arena and the NBA champion Heat at Miami on Saturday.
The Hornets held Lakers center Howard to 18 points and just eight rebounds, but he blocked five shots in keying their defense. Bryant torched and tormented the Hornets for 29 points them on 10-of-17 shooting. He needed 13 points to reach the 30,000 mark, and did with 1:16 left in the first half.
Point guard Chris Duhon, who prepped at Salmen High School in Slidell, started his second consecutive game for the Lakers with starter Steve Nash and backup Steve Blake injured. Duhon had just three points but had a game-high 10 assists and no turnovers.
Hornets power forward Ryan Anderson, starting in place of Anthony Davis, scored a game-high 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting, including 5-of-8 on 3-point attempts. Point guard Greivis Vasquez had 16 points and nine assists, and center Robin Lopez had 15 points and matched Howard with five blocks.
The Hornets were able to hang on in the second quarter after a late Lakers surge. But in the third, Los Angeles raced past the Hornets 30-15, with Howard scoring nine points and Bryant seven. The Lakers shot 11-of-19 (57.9 percent), including 4-of-7 on 3-point attempts. Defensively, they smothered the Hornets into 5-of-18 shooting (27.8 percent), turning a 48-47 Hornets halftime lead into a 77-64 Lakers advantage.
It got worse from there, as Los Angeles built a 92-72 bulge by 7:24 of the fourth.
In the first half, every time the Hornets tried to increase their modest lead, the Lakers reeled them back in. At times, Howard blocked shots, setting up the Lakers on the fast break. At other times, the Hornets missed layups and close shots, no doubt because of the presence of Howard.
The Hornets took a 44-36 lead at the 2:33 mark when Al-Farouq
Aminu dunked a lob from Vasquez on the break after Roger Mason’s defense caused Bryant to miss.
The dunk excited the crowd. However, instead of the play sending the Hornets on their way to a comfortable halftime lead, Bryant took it upon himself to bring the Lakers back with determined drives to the basket.
He made seven of the Lakers’ last 11 points, including two free throws with 1:14 left - his 13th and 14th points, which put him at 30,001 for his career.
Duhon, who is in his ninth year, said it will be one of his favorite NBA memories.
“To take part in a game with someone who gets his 30,000th point is special,” Duhon said, “and to see it done at home and get the win makes it even better.”