LOS ANGELES -- Even when the Los Angeles Lakers finally managed to beat the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA's youngest franchise still infused another bit of misery into the two-time defending champions' lives.
Kobe Bryant scored 27 points and the Lakers interrupted the Bobcats' inexplicable mastery over them Friday with a 92-84 victory.
Sure, the Lakers won their sixth straight game since the All-Star break, beating the Bobcats for just the third time in their last 11 meetings. They also had to watch Derek Fisher, their five-time champion point guard, writhing on the court in pain after spraining his left elbow in a tussle with Kwame Brown for a loose ball.
Fisher has played in 476 games, the NBA's longest active streak. He didn't return from the locker room after getting hurt, and the Lakers don't know whether he'll be available for Sunday's showdown in San Antonio with the league-leading Spurs.
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"He's strong as an ox, so he's got enough strength to probably hold it together," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
At least the injury provided Lakers fans with another reason to boo Brown, the loathed former Los Angeles center traded for Pau Gasol three years ago.
"He got his hand caught," Brown said. "It was nothing. Fisher is a big boy, he'll be fine."
D.J. Augustin scored 22 points for the Bobcats, who have dropped the first three on a four-game West Coast road swing. Shaun Livingston added 12 points for Charlotte, which lost leading scorer Stephen Jackson to a strained left hamstring in the third quarter. Coach Paul Silas said Jackson could be out for at least a few games to rest his legs.
Gasol had 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Lakers grinded out a shockingly rare victory over the Bobcats.
The champs had been confounded lately by Charlotte, the only team other than Boston with a winning record against the Lakers (8-6). The Bobcats trounced Los Angeles 109-89 in Charlotte on Feb. 14, embarrassing Jackson and prompting Bryant to bolt from the arena without a word to the media.
"Well, a big difference was we didn't have Gerald Wallace," Silas said of his former All-Star, since traded to Portland. "If we would have had him, we would have been better, but they were good. That's a great team, and they were ready for us. Kobe was ready. We played as well as we could, but we just didn't have enough for them."
Despite their road struggles and a dismal overall record, the Bobcats (26-35) are just one game behind eighth-place Indiana in the East standings. Silas even saw progress from Wednesday's 40-point loss at Denver.
And though Charlotte depleted itself at the trade deadline, Bryant believes the Lakers no longer resemble the club that stumbled to the All-Star break with consecutive losses to Orlando, the Bobcats and Cleveland.
"We're playing much more aggressive basketball," Bryant said. "We're attacking. We're getting after it at both ends. That's a big difference."
Lamar Odom had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, and Andrew Bynum had season highs of 17 rebounds and six blocked shots, both just shy of his career highs. Although the Lakers committed just seven turnovers and played solid defense, their boss wasn't impressed.
"I didn't like any part of the game tonight, none of it," Phil Jackson said. "We weren't fluid, didn't move the ball well. ... If we play Sunday like we did tonight, we're not going to be in the contest."
Still, the Lakers were calmly effective in their only home appearance during a 16-day stretch with an upcoming four-game road trip extending through Miami and Dallas. Jackson believes the trip will determine whether his club can compete with the Spurs and Mavericks for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Lakers didn't appear intimidated by the Bobcats early on, making a 17-2 run in the first quarter to take a 13-point lead. Only Augustin kept Charlotte competitive, scoring 11 points in the opening period.
"I've never had this," Jackson said. "I mean, I hurt it in Charlotte before, but it's never gotten this serious to where I couldn't get through it in the game, and it's been two games in a row, so I've got to take a serious look at it. It's frustrating, because we're right there."
- Matt Barnes was scheduled to return to the Lakers' lineup after a 25-game absence following surgery on his right knee, but he went back to the locker room after developing a sharp pain throughout his right leg during warmup stretches. Barnes said he irritated a nerve in his leg. He'll be re-evaluated Saturday.
- The Lakers made their first 15 free throws before Bynum missed with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
- Fans near courtside included Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, who sat with superagent Ari Emanuel next to the Lakers' bench; Tom Petty, Jamie Kennedy and director Brett Ratner.