Lakers swat aside Hornets for seventh straight win

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers breezed to a 110-99 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, the defending NBA champions easing clear in the first half for a seventh straight win.

Andrew Bynum had 21 points and nine rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 18 before sitting out the fourth quarter as the Lakers improved to a league-best 14-3.

"We made it look kind of easy out there tonight," Bynum told reporters after his team dominated the Hornets for a second time this season.

"It's because we played great defense in the second quarter and that's what separated us. We've been getting to the weak side and really closing the gap."

The Los Angeles defense has improved in the last month, holding opponents under 100 points in each of the seven wins.

The depleted Hornets were unable to break down Los Angeles and their cause was not helped by the absence of All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who is out indefinitely, and forward Peja Stojakovic, missing a second straight game for personal reasons.

Rookie guard Darren Collison scored 20 points and Emeka Okafor had 17 and 12 rebounds for the Hornets (7-11), who made the final score look respectable with a 30-20 fourth quarter after trailing by 20 at halftime.

The game spun out of control for New Orleans in the second quarter, where the Lakers went on a 21-4 run en route to a 62-42 halftime lead.

"I thought we played three quarters of pretty good basketball," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It was a good win but it could be better. I can't think of two many things I liked from (the second unit in the fourth quarter)."

Los Angeles used a balanced attack and got 16 points from Ron Artest and 14 from Pau Gasol, who has taken the team to another level in the last six games since he made his delayed season debut because of a hamstring injury.

Thanks to a generous early schedule, the Lakers have played just four road games this season and are two games into a five-game homestand.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien)