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Bryant leads Lakers past Hornets

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, April 23 – Kobe Bryant scored 30 points to lead two-time defending NBA champions Los Angeles to a 100-86 victory over New Orleans in their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

The win gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, which continues with game four in New Orleans on Sunday.

Pau Gasol broke out of his playoff slump with 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds from Andrew Bynum and 13 points from Lamar Odom.

Chris Paul had 22 points and eight assists for New Orleans, who managed to keep it close for much of the game but never really threatened after the Lakers took an early lead.

"They just had a collective effort tonight," Paul said. "Everybody pitched in and that’s what we really can’t let them do.

"We fought," Paul added. "We played a great first half. It’s just, in the second half it got away from us."

Bryant, who was held to 11 points in the Lakers’ game-two victory on Wednesday, showed early that he was upping his intensity, knocking an attempted shot by Carl Landry out of bounds and then driving into the lane himself for a one-handed dunk. Bryant scored 15 points in the first quarter.

It took Gasol longer to warm up. The Spaniard, who had scored just eight points in each of the first two games, had only four points in the first half but hit a key three-pointer early in the fourth that gave the Lakers a 78-70 lead.

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It was only Gasol’s second three-pointer of this season and the second of his career in the playoffs.

"It was a low shot clock, Steve (Blake) got the ball there and I was open," Gasol said by way of explanation of the unexpected shot. "So I caught it, looked at the rim and made the shot."

Gasol’s return to form was a welcome development for the Lakers, not to mention for Gasol himself.

"It was just about playing my game and being assertive and being comfortable out there," Gasol said.

"Don’t try to overthink it. Don’t try to think about the last play. Just try to make the right play. It was a much better game on my part."

The three-pointer launched a 10-1 scoring run that included seven points from Gasol, and the Lakers enjoyed a double-digit lead for much of the final period.

"The big aspect is Pau having that two, three minutes of offensive display there in the fourth quarter. It helped establish the lead and give us some room," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

"He is just too good a basketball player. He can shoot, he can handle the ball, he can do a lot of things. It’s just a matter of him finding a comfort zone out there.

"I didn’t expect him to find it out on the three-point line," Jackson added. "But we are not surprised when he makes those shots."

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