Kobe Bryant scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Lakers ended the Charlotte Bobcats' inexplicable mastery over them Friday night with a 92-84 victory, their sixth straight win since the All-Star break.
Pau Gasol had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Derek Fisher sprained his left elbow as the Lakers grinded out a shockingly rare victory over the NBA's youngest franchise.
The two-time defending champions had lost eight of their previous 10 meetings with Charlotte, the only team other than Boston with a winning record against the Lakers (8-6).
D.J. Augustin scored 22 points for the Bobcats, who have dropped the first three on a four-game West Coast road swing. Shaun Livingston added 12 points for Charlotte, which lost leading scorer Stephen Jackson to a strained left hamstring in the third quarter.
Fisher also went to the locker room in the third after bending his left arm awkwardly during a tussle for a rebound with Kwame Brown. The scrap left the Lakers' captain writhing on the floor in pain while the Staples Center crowd booed Brown, the loathed former Los Angeles center traded for Gasol three years ago.
Despite their road struggles and a dismal overall record, the Bobcats (26-35) are just one game behind eighth-place Indiana in the East standings.
Lamar Odom had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, and Andrew Bynum had season highs of 17 rebounds and six blocked shots, both just shy of his career highs.
Although Los Angeles couldn't manage a convincing win, Bryant and his teammates comfortably held off Charlotte throughout the second half in a marked change from their last meeting. The Bobcats trounced Los Angeles 109-89 in Charlotte on Feb. 14, embarrassing coach Phil Jackson and prompting Bryant to bolt from the arena without a word to the media.
The Lakers were calmly effective in their only home appearance during a 16-day stretch, with a key four-game road trip starting Sunday in San Antonio and extending through Miami and Dallas.
Jackson believes the trip will determine whether his club can compete with the Spurs and Mavericks for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs. But the Lakers have been extremely sharp since hosting All-Star weekend last month, staying perfect since back-to-back losses to Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland before the break.
The Lakers didn't appear intimidated by the Bobcats early on, making a 17-2 run in the first quarter to take a 13-point lead. Only Augustin kept Charlotte competitive, scoring 11 points in the opening period.
NOTES: Matt Barnes was scheduled to return to the Lakers' lineup after a 25-game absence following surgery on his right knee, but he irritated the knee during warmups and went back to the locker room. He could play Sunday. ... The Lakers made their first 15 free throws before Bynum missed with 3:48 left in the third quarter. ... Lakers rookie F Devin Ebanks is out for at least three weeks while recovering from a stress fracture in his leg. ... Fans near courtside included Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, who sat with superagent Ari Emanuel next to the Lakers' bench; Tom Petty, Jamie Kennedy and director Brett Ratner.