Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed back Pau Gasol on Tuesday, but still needed to erase an 18-point deficit to survive the Charlotte Bobcats, 101-100, at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant hit two big shots down the stretch and finished with 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the Lakers' third straight win.
Los Angeles had been 3-5 without the services of Gasol, who returned from a knee injury and contributed 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks in 29 minutes.
Dwight Howard chipped in 16 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, including a pivotal denial of a driving Kemba Walker in the final seconds.
Walker logged 28 points, Ramon Sessions had 20 and Gerald Henderson 19 with nine rebounds for the Bobcats, losers of 12 straight.
Despite the skid, Charlotte gave the Lakers all they could handle and had a chance to steal a victory even after Bryant hit a go-ahead layup and a 19- footer on consecutive possessions for a 101-97 lead.
Sessions quickly attacked the rim after Bryant's second make and was fouled as he got his layup to fall with 47 seconds remaining. After Bryant missed a contested jumper, Charlotte called timeout to set up the final play.
Walker drove the lane and was greeted by Howard, who redirected the shot hard off the backboard. Henderson collected the carom in front of the basket, but his putback rolled all the way around the rim and fell off. Byron Mullens was unable to gain control in a frantic scramble for a loose ball that squirted to the top of the key. Ben Gordon had one last chance from there, but his rushed leaner was well off the mark as time expired.
Los Angeles trailed by as many as 18 in the third quarter, but ended the frame on a 14-4 run to pull within single digits at 84-76.
A 13-point flurry to open the fourth completed the Lakers' quick turnaround, as Darius Morris' three-pointer just 3:04 in resulted in an 89-84 lead.
Henderson answered with a dunk over Howard while being fouled, and the Bobcats clawed back to tie things at 95-all on Bismack Biyombo's bucket with 3:18 to go.
The Lakers embarked on a 16-2 run spanning the first and second quarters to go on top, 34-25. Gasol scored five on the run and hooked up with Howard on a give-and-go that ended in the latter throwing down an alley-oop dunk.
Henderson sparked a 17-3 Charlotte run late in the half with a 3-pointer and a three-point play the old fashioned way, and the Bobcats went into the break holding a 58-53 advantage.
The visitors kept the momentum out of halftime with a 20-7 flurry over the first six minutes, pushing the lead to as high as 18 after Sessions' finger roll made it a 78-60 game.
Bryant is the first player in NBA history to score 30-plus points in seven straight games at 34-plus years of age ... Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks each netted 17 points for the Lakers ... Mullens posted a double-double with 13 points and 17 boards ... Charlotte, which shot 14-of-22 from the foul line, has lost four in a row at Los Angeles.