(AP) — When the Los Angeles Lakers visited the New Orleans Hornets last week, everything seemed to be going wrong.
Since cruising to an easy victory in that game, things appear to be getting back on track for the two-time reigning NBA champions.
The Lakers look to win their third straight when they host the Hornets on Friday night.
Los Angeles (25-11) has been trying to move past a recent slide that consisted of three blowout losses. It’s had some bumps along the way, including an embarrassing 104-85 home loss to Memphis on Sunday and a verbal argument between coach Phil Jackson and Ron Artest earlier this week, but the Lakers have won four of five – a stretch sparked by a 103-88 win over New Orleans on Dec. 29.
However, not all the victories have come as easily as that one. Los Angeles escaped with a 99-95 win in Phoenix on Wednesday.
The Lakers were up one with just over two minutes to go, but Artest’s 3-pointer gave them a 97-91 lead with 1:30 remaining. Artest finished with 11 points while Kobe Bryant led the team with 24.
“He has made big shots before when the money is on the line, big money is on the line,” Bryant said of Artest. “I have all the faith in the world in him.”
Bryant, criticized by Jackson after the Memphis loss for controlling the ball too much on offense, has taken fewer than 20 shot attempts in the last two games. The Lakers are 17-2 when that happens.
Still, Jackson had concerns about the offense Wednesday despite five players scoring in double figures. Pau Gasol had a season-low six points, failing to score more than 11 for the fourth time in six games, and the team went 6 of 23 from 3-point range.
“Our zone offense needs a little work,” Jackson said. “I didn’t think we moved the ball the way we want to. … Our 3-point shooting was really rough tonight. We need some shooters out there to counteract that.”
The Lakers are shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the arc over the last 10 games.
New Orleans (21-15) had won three straight following last week’s loss to the Lakers, but that streak ended with a 110-103 defeat to Golden State on Wednesday. The Hornets had given up an average of 79.7 points over their previous three games.
Chris Paul had 24 points and 13 assists for New Orleans, which was outscored 38-21 in the fourth quarter after leading by as many as 13 points.
“We have to worry about the Lakers on Friday,” Paul said. “Tomorrow we have to worry about us at practice figuring out what we have to do to put this together for 48 minutes. … We have to find a way to translate what we do in practice to the court, and we have to do it consistently. We can’t have letdowns like we did tonight.”
The Hornets are looking to win three in a row on the road after losing the previous seven. However, they’ve lost their straight three road games against the Lakers – the last two by a combined 27 points – and have dropped seven of the past nine meetings overall.