The Hornets did one thing well on Sunday: manage to make the Lakers' second unit look decent in comparison.
New Orleans reserves shot just 10-for-27 from the field, while similarly the Los Angeles' substitutes went 11-for-26.
The Lakers bench let a 17-point third quarter lead dwindle to six in the fourth quarter before L.A. was able to pull away by 18. It echoed recent performances against Phoenix (where a 21-point lead disappeared, and the Lakers won in triple overtime) and against the L.A. Clippers (where a 16-point lead was cut to four).
Besides letting leads slip away, the Lakers bench has had a hard time of extending the margins when the starters check out. As bad as their 11-for-27 shooting line Sunday, it was an improvement to the 5-for-20 shooting the L.A. bench put up Friday against the Clippers.
"I wasn't happy with some of the end of the third quarter and the second quarter," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said about the bench. "They had open shots, they worked the ball the right way and Shannon [Brown] and some good looks. They just didn't go down."
Bynum's statistics were pretty meager by his recent standards (13 points, five rebounds, one blocked shot), as the 7-footer played only 22 minutes because of picking up five fouls.
"It wasn’t foul trouble," Bynum maintained after the game. "I don’t think I committed any fouls tonight."
The refs thought otherwise, whistling Bynum for an offensive foul with 9:37 remaining in the fourth, his fifth of the game.
With the Lakers lead at 10 points, Jackson kept Bynum on the floor, rather than take him out and save him in case New Orleans was able to close the gap.
Rather than play tentatively, Bynum was aggressive, scoring seven of the Lakers next nine points, including two on a ferocious dunk after a sweet pivot move in the post.
"At that point I was like, ‘Well, I might as well go hard because if I get a foul, it’s to be expected,’" Bynum explained. "Luckily, some good things happened."
The win gave L.A. a 4-0 season sweep of the Hornets. Jackson was asked if he would be "fearful" if the Lakers met New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs, as would be the case if the postseason started Monday.
"'Fearful' is a word that I wouldn't say. 'Concerned,' yes," said Jackson. "They have a general out there [in Chris Paul] with the ball in his hands that's very capable of controlling the game."
Paul had 10 points, nine assists, five rebounds and two steals Sunday. Jackson said the key to him not having a bigger impact was Derek Fisher and Blake avoiding fouling Paul.
While the bench had its struggles, Brown had his highlight of the season, turning a second-quarter steal into what he called the best in-game dunk of his career.
Brown streaked towards the basket and noticed New Orleans' 7-foot, 270-pound center Aaron Gray in his peripheral as he took off with the ball in his right hand.
In the blink of an eye, he put the ball in his left hand to finish the dunk in an ode to Michael Jordan's "spectacular" finish to a play in the 1991 NBA Finals.
"I didn’t know if he was going to contest it or block it, so, something told me to switch hands," said Brown.
So, does the dunk have a name?
"There’s no name for it," Brown said. "I don’t know. I just switched hands. It happened so quick."
As a former Slam Dunk contest judge, what would Kobe Bryant give it?
"I give it a 10, no question," Bryant said. "It was just ridiculous. His explosiveness is out of this world. I don’t know if I could do that. I did a lot of [stuff], but that ..."
The win makes the Lakers 15-1 since the All-Star break and coupled with a loss by the Spurs on Sunday night puts them just four games behind San Antonio for the No. 1 seed in the West with nine left to play.
"We’re motivated by winning," said Bryant. "It doesn’t really matter to us if we catch [San Antonio] or not. We’re going to try to win every game. If we catch them, so be it. If we don’t, so be it."
Jackson wouldn't declare No. 1 seed or bust, however.
"We’re just talking about trying to finish second, knowing that Dallas is playing extremely well."
The Lakers host the Mavericks on Thursday.
Speaking of the Spurs, head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected on Sunday. The last time Jackson was run from a game by a referee was Jan. 2007 against the Houston Rockets. The last time Jackson himself could recall being ejected, however, was Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Popovich and the Spurs in May, 2001.
"I don’t get technicals," Jackson explained of his ability to stay on the sidelines rather than having to go hit the showers. "If I get a technical, it’s a mistake by the referee. It’s not that I earned it … They misheard me or something."
The Lakers' hot streak could lead to a lot of things -- 60-plus wins, the No. 1 seed in West, the No. 1 overall seed in the league -- but it won't lead to any celebration.
"There’s not a sense of accomplishment for winning a lot of regular season games," said Fisher.
"We’re playing well. We’re just doing our jobs. Nobody in this locker room is over-the-top excited by what we’re doing. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do," chimed in Bryant.
Much like the way the Lakers didn't panic during their three- and four-game losing streaks earlier on in the season, they're not patting themselves on the back for the way they're playing now.
"Don’t make that big of a deal out of it because, like it wasn’t too big of a deal the way we ended last year in the regular season [going 4-9]," Gasol said. "It’s not a big deal if we end up 24-1 [after the All-Star break]."
Seen in the locker room: For the first time this season, a television film crew was in the Lakers locker room before the game to gather footage for Odom's upcoming reality show, "Khloe & Lamar." Don't blame Odom's low totals of eight points and five rebounds on reality TV distractions, however. He picked up four fouls that limited him to 26 minutes of playing time.
Quote of the night: "I don’t think Fish is stupid enough to do it. He’s probably smarter than that." -- Jackson on whether Fisher will end up being a branch on the Zen Master's coaching tree by pursuing a career holding the clip board after he's finished playing.
Stats of the night: Both teams shot an identical 3-for-17 (17.6 percent) on 3-pointers ... With 30 points Sunday, Bryant ran his scoring average over his last three games to 36.3 points -- more than 10 points above his 25.1 average for the season ... Carl Landy had 24 points and 10 rebounds starting for the injured David West who averaged only 18.9 points and 7.6 boards before going down for the season with an ACL tear.