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Saturday, April 30, 2011

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At arm's length: Los Angeles' Pau Gasol tries to keep control of the ball as he holds off New Orleans' Emeka Okafor during Game 6 of their first-round playoff series on Thursday. AP

Bryant, Lakers close out underdog Hornets in style


New Orleans — Andrew Bynum used his massive frame to own the lane, Kobe Bryant made timely shots that silenced a hostile crowd, and the Los Angeles Lakers started to look a lot more like a team trying to win a third straight NBA title.

Bryant scored 22 of his 24 points in the first three quarters, then let his teammates take over in a dominant 98-80 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night that wrapped up a first-round playoff series triumph for Los Angeles in six games.

The performance left coach Phil Jackson saying his current squad has the "potential to be as good as any team I've coached with the Lakers."

He might have sounded silly saying that after Game 4, when Chris Paul's triple-double helped the Hornets tie the series at two, but it's not like championship Lakers teams have never started slow before.

They split their first four playoff games with Oklahoma City last season before winning that series 4-2 and moving on to eventually win the franchise's 16th NBA title. This time, they turned in convincing double-digit victories in the last two games, winning by 16 on Tuesday night and leading by as much as 21 in the fourth quarter of the series clincher.

"We're good at making adjustments and learning," Bryant said. "So the more a series goes on, the more we learn. That comes from our coaching staff. That comes from us and the amount of experience we have, being able to pick teams apart the later we go in a series."

Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds, drawing groans from the New Orleans crowd with each of his eight offensive rebounds. His ability to clean up teammates' misses and extend possessions helped Los Angeles gain a lopsided 21-4 advantage in second-chance points.

"Every time he got an offensive rebound, it was deflating," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "You don't really realize how good he is until you face him in a series. Kobe's Kobe, but I thought Bynum decided the series. He was that good."

Pau Gasol chipped in with 16 points and Lamar Odom had 14 for the Lakers, whose overpowering fourth quarter provided an anticlimactic ending to what had initially been a more exciting series than many expected — particularly with New Orleans having lost leading scorer David West to a season-ending injury in late March.

Paul, who helped the Hornets split the first four games with two sensational performances, wasn't able to deliver a third victory. He had only seven points before hitting a 3-pointer with 4:02 to go and finished with 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.

Mavericks 103, Blazers 96

In Portland, Dirk Nowitzki had 33 points and 11 rebounds, and Dallas withstood a furious Trail Blazers comeback to take the first-round playoff series in six games.

The Mavericks advanced to face two-time defending champion Los Angeles. The series opens Monday at Staples Center.

Jason Terry finished with 22 points as Dallas snapped the home-court advantage that each team had held during the playoffs and the regular season.

The Blazers led by as many as 12 points early after Gerald Wallace, who scored 32 points, went on a tear with 13 first-quarter points.

Hawks 84, Magic 81

In Atlanta, Joe Johnson scored 23 points and came up with a huge offensive rebound to lead the Hawks in the series-clinching Game 6.

Atlanta advanced to the second round for the third straight year, this time against top-seeded Chicago.

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