Before the game started, the always affable Lamar Odom spoke to a gaggle of reporters in the locker room, propping his left arm on a shelf in his locker to immobilize his sore left shoulder.
"I'll warm it up a little bit, put some Flexall on it," Odom said. "I'll pass the ball, rebound."
His passing led to two assists and his rebounding led to 13 boards. What Odom forgot to mention was he would be doing some scoring (17 points on 8-of-15 shooting) and playing some defense (two blocks).
On the night, he outscored the Hornets bench single-handedly, 17-15, and did it with his dominant left hand rendered somewhat ineffective because of the injury he was playing through. Yet, Odom scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter to help stave off a swarming New Orleans squad that chipped away the Lakers lead from 10 down to three.
"I think his shoulder is not that bad, but it's difficult still," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "He did what he normally does. He didn’t shy away from contact. He took the ball to the hoop and maybe took a couple easier shots than he normally would have instead of the turnaround jump hooks that he could have had in the lane."
Before the game, somewhat facetiously, Odom classified himself as being a "gladiator" for playing through the pain. After the game, Kobe Bryant had a different distinction for him.
"He’s a big problem for other teams matchup-wise," Bryant said. "They can’t match up with him. I’d be surprised, very surprised, if he wasn’t an All-Star this year."
The 12-year veteran, who has yet to be named an All-Star in his career, faces stiff competition for the February event. He is currently seventh in voting amongst Western Conference forwards, behind the likes of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, teammate Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Blake Griffin and slightly ahead of another strong candidate in Kevin Love.
As consistent as Odom has been and as feel good of a story it would be for his first All-Star game appearance to come when L.A. was hosting it, he might have to be satisfied with his gladiator distinction for now.
One way to describe Bryant is "legend" after his 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting helped push him past Oscar Robertson for ninth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. You could also call him "thief" after he candidly admitted to stealing moves from the greats that came before him after the game.
"It’s a great honor," Bryant said. "Obviously, Oscar, I patterned so much of my game after his and Jerry [West] and Michael [Jordan] in particular -- those big guards -- so, it means a lot.
"Specifically, I took [Robertson’s] baseline jumper. He was known for putting his body on smaller guards and taking them down to the short porch on the baseline and raising over them. That’s something I took from him."
Bryant also showed off his flair for footwork, twice using a step-through move to totally elude his defender and get to the rim on the strength of skill rather than sky-high jumping ability.
"That’s Kevin McHale," Bryant said, adding he studied the former Celtics player's tricks on tape. "I told him I’d take it. Every time I see him, I tell him some of the moves I took from him."
Bryant was then asked about his alternating right- and left-handed sweeping hook shots he made in the lane in the final minutes to close out the game.
"That’s all Mamba, baby," he said.
Bryant responded to a New York Post report that quoted him as saying his surgically repaired right nearly was nearly "bone on bone."
"Do I look worried? Did we win last year?" Bryant said after the game. "My knee last year was the size of a balloon and we still won, so I'm not that concerned about it. We just got to be smart and pace things out."
Read more about the knee and Bryant's scaled-back practice habits here.
After averaging just 12.8 points per game in the Lakers last four losses, Pau Gasol is starting to return to form on the offensive end. He scored 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting Friday (to go with 13 rebounds, seven assists and two steals), putting himself past the 20-point plateau for the second time in the last three games and making up for the paltry six points he put up against Phoenix.
"We need him as a scorer," Jackson said. "He's a scoring big man and we need him to carry a load for us. It changes how the defense plays us. They can't focus on Kobe as much if they're worried about defending big guys back in the lane, and the big guys aren't so interested in coming to help out on Kobe or anybody else."
Andrew Bynum was right behind Gasol, pumping in 17 points to accompany five rebounds and three blocks in the box score. The young center had some harsh words for the offense after the Suns game, but saw signs of improvement in ball movement against New Orleans.
"Offensively I think we're starting to work it out, we're starting to trust the offense and moving the ball," Bynum said. "We did a little bit better job tonight and I think we'll continue to progress."
If it's not the offense that's stalling with this team, it's the defense that needs a tune-up.
Bynum said, "defensively we need to work on our rotations and I think we'll be all right," and Bryant elaborated on the sentiment.
"We know what work needs to be done, Bryant said. "It’s pretty easy to identify the mistakes that we’re making. Defensively we got to run the system and it’s pretty easy to hold guys accountable on their rotations because we know where the mistakes are coming from. I think it’s a new challenge for us. In the triangle, we feel like we can run that whenever we want to. I think it’s kind of a new appetite trying to figure this defensive system [out]."
L.A. held New Orleans under 100 points (97) on just 33-of-76 shooting overall (43.4 percent), but let the Hornets shooters free enough to go 8-of-19 on 3-pointers (42.1 percent) which is a percentage the Lakers would like to see in the low thirties or even less.
The Lakers will need their defense humming for what PJax described as the "high-octane" offense that the New York Knicks will bring to town on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers might have to shut down New York without two of their most tenacious on-ball defenders.
Matt Barnes (sprained right knee) and Steve Blake (left ankle) both left the game prematurely with injuries. Blake was hopeful he would be able to play after the game, dubbing himself "day to day," but Barnes wasn't as sure having never dealt with a knee injury before in his eight-year career. Barnes will undergo an MRI on Saturday.
D.J. Mbenga, now a member of the Hornets, was presented with his 2009-10 championship ring at center court by Bryant and Derek Fisher before the game began.
"A lot of emotions, a lot of memories -- good memories -- being here," Mbenga said after the game while visiting the Lakers locker room.
Mbenga had a big smile on his face during the presentation. Sarah McLachlan would be proud of Mbenga as he wept not for the memories.
"I'm not an emotional guy, I just take everything like it is," Mbenga said. "I'm a strong man so I take everything like it is."
Quotes of the night: "Matt will be OK ... He'll be fine, he'll be playing next game." -- Lakers forward Ron Artest playing doctor and assessing his teammate's injury.
"I wasn’t wondering about it, I knew what the direction was. That’s why I was livid. We needed to change course or I’ll go someplace else, it was as simple as that. His situation is a little different. It seems like they worked some things out and figured out which direction they are going to go … He’s a really nice kid and he’s much more P.C. than I am, or I was." -- Kobe Bryant comparing his trade-demand situation several seasons ago with what Chris Paul is going through in New Orleans.
Stats of the night: After bottoming out with zero points against Memphis and having the story about his confrontation with Jackson come out, Artest scored in double digits for the second straight game, ending up with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting ... L.A. led N.O. 50-32 in points in the paint and 9-3 in fastbreak points ... Bryant needs 227 points to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the all-time scoring list.