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Lakers Cruise Past Hawks In Return To Staples Center

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Pau Gasol scored seven of his 20 points in the final 5:20 and grabbed 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Atlanta Hawks 86-78 on Tuesday night.

Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who returned from a 3-3 road trip and improved to 12-2 at home — compared to 5-10 away. Kobe Bryant, whose jumper in the final 5 seconds beat Toronto on Sunday, finished this one with only 10 points in 34 minutes on 5 for 18 shooting.

The Hawks shot just 34.4 percent in the opener of a five-game trip. Jeff Teague led them with 18 points, and All-Star Joe Johnson was held to 15 in 37 minutes on 7 for 17 shooting. Josh Smith, still smarting from his All-Star sub, also scored 15.

It was the only meeting this season between the teams, due to the lockout-shortened, 66-game schedule. The last time Atlanta won the season series was 1978-79, when it took three of four under coach Hubie Brown.

Bryant, who missed 10 of his first 11 shots against the New York Knicks last Friday in a 92-85 loss, was 1 for 10 from the field in the first half against Atlanta. But he made four of his first five after intermission, helping Los Angeles take a 59-51 lead into the fourth quarter.

The 14-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ, who turns 34 years old on Aug. 23, came in leading the NBA with a 29.2 average. The oldest player to win a league scoring title was Michael Jordan, who was 35 years and 61 days old when he finished the 1997-98 campaign with a league-best 28.7 average in his final season with the Chicago Bulls.

The Lakers’ annual Grammy road trip was an eventful one for Bryant, who overtook Shaquille O’Neal for fifth place on the career scoring list in his hometown of Philadelphia — and became the 10th player to make 10,000 field goals in the NBA with a 3-pointer on his final shot in the Lakers’ loss at New York.

Steve Blake, playing his first home game since returning from an injury, made a 23-footer and a 3-pointer 67 seconds apart to give the Lakers a 74-62 lead with 5:47 to play. Gasol scored their next seven points on a short jumper, a hook shot and a 3-pointer that gave Los Angeles its biggest lead, 81-64, with 3:38 remaining.

The Lakers, who have scored 100 of more points in only three of their first 29 games, led 42-41 at halftime after Metta World Peace hit a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds on the clock. It was the team’s only field goal in 14 attempts during the final 6:39 of the second quarter — a drought that began after reserve swingman Troy Murphy’s 3 gave them a 38-30 lead. Bynum made six of seven shots in the half and had 13 points — offsetting 13 by Smith.

Former Laker Vladimir Radmanovic entered the game with 2:57 left in the first quarter and hit a pair of 3-pointers 68 seconds apart before Tracy McGrady beat the buzzer with another 3 to cut the Hawks’ deficit to 27-24. Atlanta was 7 for 27 overall from behind the arc. The Lakers, who came in with a league-worst 39.1 percentage from 3-point range, were 8 for 17.

Reserve center Erick Dampier, playing in his third game with Atlanta after signing a 10-day contract last Thursday, was the first player off the Hawks’ bench and played 16 scoreless minutes with four rebounds.

Notes: Tough Love Dept.: The Hawks are 0-6 against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day — including an 87-86 loss in 1996, when Magic Johnson posted his first triple-double since returning to the Lakers after announcing in 1991 that he was retiring because of the HIV virus. … The Lakers also hosted Atlanta in their first game following last year’s Grammy road trip, beating them 104-80. … Since moving into Staples Center for the 1999-00 season, the Lakers have a .747 winning percentage during the regular season when they play a home game immediately following a road game (168-57). … Bryant has had the Lakers’ highest-scoring game against 18 of the league’s other 29 franchises. But the most productive game by any Laker against the Hawks was by Elgin Baylor, who had back-to-back 52-point outings against the St. Louis Hawks during a three-day stretch in December 1961.

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