Los Angeles, CA – With his team's playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Kobe Bryant launched late game heroics with 23 points in the fourth quarter, lifting the Los Angeles Lakers to a 104-96 victory over the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center
Bryant was just 2-for-7 before the start of the final frame, but willed his club to a win that puts them back in as the eighth seed of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Lakers hold a half-game lead over Utah, which lost to Oklahoma City earlier Tuesday.
Bryant finished with 30 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals, while Paul Gasol totaled 22 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles, which was coming off a loss to the Clippers.
"That's what he does. We have one of the best closers in the game," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni on Bryant. "That's why we can be a dangerous team."
The Lakers have four games left on their schedule.
Dwight Howard had 19 points and the Lakers saw the return of Metta World Peace, who miraculously was ready to play just 12 days after surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. He scored four points.
New Orleans was led by 22 points from Eric Gordon. Rookie Anthony Davis contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Hornets, losers in nine of their last 10 road games.
"I thought we had a couple chances, but we just threw it away," said Hornets coach Monty Williams. "I thought we competed like crazy tonight."
Bryant had seven points after three quarters, but matched that total 1:20 into the fourth with a 3-pointer in between a pair of long jumpers. He went on to score the Lakers' first 14 points of the period and Antawn Jamison's driving three-point play gave Los Angeles an 87-84 lead with 5:02 to play.
The Hornets had possession behind by five with 2:38 remaining, but saw their hopes go up in flames when Bryant picked Gordon's pocket. Bryant then took the ball all the way to the hoop, drew a foul on his made layup, and sank the free throw for a 94-86 Lakers lead to all but seal the win.
World Peace, who was originally given a 4-to-6 week timetable for his return, came off the bench and buried a 3-pointer with 3:24 left in the first to give Los Angeles the lead, and it carried a 27-22 edge heading into the second.
The Lakers soon pushed their lead to 10, but Gordon led the Hornets back by scoring 13 points during a quarter-closing 17-2 surge, which put New Orleans ahead 50-45.
The third quarter was back-and-fourth, with the lead changing hands nine times. Brian Roberts' layup sent New Orleans into the fourth tied, 70-70.
The Hornets had 26 points as a team in the fourth, scoring just three more than Bryant's total in the period ... Jamison had 13 points ... Lakers guard Steve Nash missed his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury ... World Peace played 15 minutes ... New Orleans has lost to Los Angeles 11 times in a row.