Lakers squash Hornets to march on

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol exploded for 23 of Los Angeles' 29 points in the third quarter to propel the two-time defending NBA champions to a 98-80 victory over Western Conference rivals the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday, sending them into the next round of the playoffs.

The Lakers were joined in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks, who held off the Orlando Magic 84-81 to clinch their Eastern Conference series 4-2, and the Dallas Mavericks who closed out the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2 with a 103-96 win.

Los Angeles held a slim 40-34 lead following a low scoring first half, but Bryant and Gasol then took over to post a 12-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter, which they built on despite resting most of their starters.

"I think we weathered the storm early. We didn't get off to a great start. But we didn't allow the emotion and the energy in the building to get to us early," Lakers guard Derek Fisher told reporters.

"Even though we didn't play well, we hung right in there. In the third quarter we finally found a little bit of space to get some separation."

Bryant led the Lakers with 24 points in just 30 minutes. Andrew Bynum scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds and Gasol scored 16 points as LA clinched a 4-2 series win.

Hornets' guard Chris Paul was held to just one field goal in the first half and 10 points in total in the game, though he did make 11 assists. Carl Landry led the Hornets with 19 points and Trevor Ariza added 12 points.

"They played well. We just lost to a really, really good team," said Paul. "It's obvious why those guys are the two-time defending champs. Those guys made shots and we missed shots."


The visiting Magic trailed by as many as 12 points in the fourth, but went on a 15-6 run over a seven-minute stretch to pull within one point with 34 seconds remaining, only to come up just short.

Jamal Crawford sank two free throws with eight seconds left to push the Hawks lead back up to three points.

In the closing seconds J.J. Redick missed an open three point attempt and Josh Smith blocked another three-point attempt by Orlando as the horn sounded.

In Portland, Dallas overcame a slow start and held off a late charge by the Trail Blazers.

Dallas outscored the Trail Blazers 33-16 in the second quarter to turn an eight point deficit into a nine-point half time lead.

Portland made one last push in the fourth quarter, trimming the lead to one point with 5:24 remaining on a steal and slam dunk by Wallace.

Jason Kidd responded for the Mavericks with a three-point basket to push the lead back to four and send the Mavericks to victory.

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Alastair Himmer)