Lakers take unfamiliar path to victory as Kobe Bryant struggles

There Kobe Bryant stood laughing with Pau Gasol over a miffed alley-oop lob.

There the bench looked sharp as an actually cohesive unit.

There Metta World Peace drove the lane and threw a one-handed dunk.

The Lakers' 86-78 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks featured several facets the team hardly displays on a regular basis. And not just the first appearance at a Lakers game this season of Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's estranged wife, who sat behind the team bench and later was seen outside the locker room.

Bryant and Gasol, for once, didn't fret over silly mistakes. The bench, near the bottom of the league in scoring all season, posted 28 points, including 10 from rookie guard Andrew Goudelock. World Peace scored 10 points, nailed two three-pointers and even threw down two dunks after clearing the air with Coach Mike Brown during the morning shoot-around over his frustrations regarding his role.

Somehow Bryant's 10 points on a five-of-18 clip and five turnovers became a mere afterthought.

"Every time we do something like this, whether it's Kobe having an off night or Pau or whatever, it gives our team a little bit more belief," Brown said. "If we get stops, we're going to give ourselves a chance. At the end of the day, we don't always have to put the ball in the hole."

But it's unlikely that will happen consistently. It's unlikely opponents will shoot only 34.4% the way Atlanta did despite seeing constantly open looks. The Lakers bench's chemistry is still tenuous. Gasol doesn't usually post 20 points and 13 rebounds when he's shooting below 50%.

Bynum's 15 points on seven-of-10 shooting and 15 rebounds against Atlanta aside, Bryant's poor shooting means he'll need to further evaluate his shot selection because the Lakers' success will depend on it.

"Teams are locking in on me a lot more," said Bryant, who has shot 37.1% in the last seven games despite claims that the torn ligament in his right wrist has healed. "We'll look at that. We'll free me up a little bit more. Get some more screens. Get me some more easy looks so I don't have to look at traps all night."

Those traps entailed Atlanta throwing double and even triple teams at Bryant by the likes of Joe Johnson, Jeff Teague, Tracy McGrady and Kirk Hinrich. That forced Bryant to finish one of 10 from the field in the first half, mostly on 20-foot jumpers.

Bryant improved in the second half with a four-of-eight clip that involved two drives to the basket and two 20-foot jumpers, but he said the only difference was that after halftime "I just made them."

With Bryant's league-leading average of 28.7 points and 24.1 field-goal attempts per game, the Lakers star's play has largely determined, for better or for worse, the teams success. This time, it didn't.

"He's going to find a way," World Peace said. "He's figuring out what everybody is doing out there on the court, when guys will be out there, and who he has, and what guys can do. He just figures it out and gets it done."

A similar transformation took place after Bryant went six-of-28 from the field in the Lakers' New Year's Day loss to Denver. Bryant found his shots more off the ball en route to elbow and baseline jumpers instead of isolation sets, an effort he believes he can replicate.

Of his shooting trouble, Bryant said, "This doesn't faze me one bit."

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