Just when you think the role reversals can’t get any more outrageous at Staples Center …
Dwight Howard shot a higher percentage from the free-throw line than Steve Nash.
The Lakers’ bench outscored its counterparts.
Kobe Bryant continued to pass instead of shoot, even in the final minutes of a one-point game.
All these things really happened Tuesday night during the Lakers’ 111-106 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers gladly will take every strange-but-true development, having pulled out a third consecutive win despite stumbling badly in the fourth quarter.
They were up 98-80 midway through the quarter with Bryant and Nash resting on the bench. They weren’t there for long.
The Hornets pulled to within 102-101 before Bryant did what he has done best lately, finding Earl Clark cutting toward the basket for a layup with 1 minute 44 seconds left.
“It’s great for a great player like that to have trust in me because he could have easily shot it,” Clark said. “I’m just glad I finished the shot.”
Clark then swung a pass to Nash for a three-pointer and a six-point Lakers cushion on their next possession.
The drama, and the game, were over.
Bryant finished with 14 points on five-for-12 shooting to go with 11 assists and eight rebounds, his 39 assists in his last three games representing his most in a three-game stretch over his 17 seasons.
“It’s just a matter of reading the defense,” Bryant said. “Emotionally it’s contagious, but also it keeps the defense a couple of passes behind.”
Howard was the primary beneficiary of Bryant’s unselfishness, scoring three of his first four baskets thanks to passes from Bryant, including an alley-oop layup. Howard also delighted fans by making six of 11 free throws on the way to a 24-point, five-steal, four-rebound, four-block performance.
Nash, the most accurate free-throw shooter in league history, made only one of two from the line.
Yes, it was that weird.
The freaky-good ball movement that had helped generate victories over Utah and Oklahoma City was revved up a notch against New Orleans. The Lakers scored 39 baskets on 34 assists, not including a Bryant layup in the third quarter off a Metta World Peace airball.
It was more confirmation that the Lakers (20-25) might have finally found a formula that works.
“We don’t have a system,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said before the game. “We play basketball. The system is move the ball, play hard on defense, space the floor and who’s open shoots. It’s not a difficult thing.”
It actually looked easy for most of Tuesday.
Clark solidified his spot in the starting lineup with 20 points on eight-for-11 shooting to go with 12 rebounds.
The Lakers even won the battle of the benches, their reserves holding a 38-32 edge over their Hornets counterparts. Antawn Jamison scored 16 points, Jodie Meeks added 13 and Steve Blake, who sat out the previous 37 games because of a torn abdominal muscle, had two points and four assists in 13 minutes.
The Lakers still have a few things to figure out. Winning on the road would be the next logical step.
They enter their annual Grammy trip with a 5-15 record as the visiting team, their epic failures on pace to keep them home for the playoffs unless things change quickly.
In the good news department for the Lakers, five of the seven teams they will face on the 12-day trip have losing records, the exceptions being Brooklyn and Miami.
Of course, the Lakers recently completed an 0-3 trip in which they lost to sub.-400 Toronto. Success on the road would be another welcome turnaround.