Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Hornets 115-111 in overtime Friday night led by Kobe Bryant's 39 points. Bryant scored 11 points in the extra period as the Lakers held-off a furious come-back by New Orleans.
L.A.'s 16 point third quarter lead evaporated behind the hot shooting from Rasual Butler, who went 6-8 from behind the 3 pt. line. Butler led the Hornets with 31 points, but it was a questionable decision from PG Chris Paul that probably cost New Orleans the game.
With 20 seconds left in regulation, Paul decided to drive to hoop with a three-point lead, instead of pulling the ball back out and making the Lakers foul. Two foul shots from the Hornets would have given them a 100-95 lead, and most likely a win.
In stepped Lakers PG Derek Fisher, who positioned himself between Paul and the basket and drew an offensive foul. Seconds later, with the defense draped all over him, Bryant found the open Fisher, who calmly drained the game tying 3 from the top of the key sending the game into overtime.
Hornets coach Byron Scott said, " The last thing I said in the huddle was, don't give up any 3s. But we gave a 3 to Fisher. We just have to put it past us and forget it."
Despite the hot shooting from Butler, and Paul's outstanding performance,( 21 points, 16 assists), Bryant was too much for the Hornets to handle.
Lamar Odom continued his stellar play with 12 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists. Pau Gasol also had another strong performance scoring 20 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
New Orleans had won a league tying 13 consecutive games in OT before the loss. With the win the Lakers retained their NBA best, 45-10 record and paid back the Hornets for a previous home loss on Jan. 6, 115-106.
Since Lakers center Andrew Bynum went down with a torn MCL on Jan. 31, L.A. has gone 8-1. Included in those games were wins against the defending NBA champion Celtics in Boston, a defeat of the Cavs in Cleveland, and on Friday night at home, the Hornets.
Bynum's replacement Lamar Odom has averaged 14 points and 16 rebounds a game, since being inserted into the starting lineup.
The announcers on ESPN brought up an interesting question during the game Friday night. They were discussing if the Lakers were a better team without Andrew Bynum. Certainly Odom has taken his play to another level since becoming a starter, but a better team without Bynum? I would have to unequivocally say no.
He is clearly one of the best young big men in the NBA and is still only 21 yrs. old. However, I would argue that the Bynum-less Lakers of 2009 are definatly better than the 2008 team who lost to Boston in the finals. They have seemed to answer their preceived "lack of toughness" that plauged them in their loss to the Celtics.
But, the key in the new found grit has been Andrew Bynum for the most part. It will be interesting to see if Odom continues his dominating play once Bynum returns and he goes back to being the 6th man in the rotation.
One thing that Odom provides when he starts, is the ability to rebound the ball and start the fast-break by dribbling up-court. For a 6'10" forward, he has exceptional ball-handling skills, but I would take the two seven footers,(Bynum and Gasol), starting, and the best sixth man in the NBA, (Odom), coming of the bench any day to the alternative.
To say that the Lakers are better without Bynum makes for nothing more than interesting conjecture.