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RECAP
03/04/2013 1:33 AM EST
Kobe, Lakers hold off Hawks to get back to .500
LA LAKERS 99, ATLANTA 98

By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant drove past Josh Smith and rose up
with the athleticism of a player half his age, throwing down an
arena-rocking, one-handed dunk. A few possessions later, Bryant
drove right at Smith and willed a layup over the taller defender
for the Los Angeles Lakers' winning points.



For a .500 team, the Lakers are looking pretty good lately.
Bryant is the biggest reason why.



Bryant scored 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and hit
the go-ahead layup with 9 seconds left, leading the Lakers back
to .500 for the first time in more than two months with a 99-98
victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.



Steve Blake stole Smith's final pass in the waning seconds for
the Lakers (30-30), who blew a 16-point lead in the second half
before Bryant scored their last six points.



After Bryant scored the Lakers' final basket while driving
directly at Smith, Blake swiped Smith's desperation pass from
underneath Los Angeles' basket. Bryant threw the ball high in
the air to run out the clock on Los Angeles' seventh straight
home victory over the Hawks since 2006.



"I just had to attack," Bryant said. "I wanted to attack and
just go right at them. Take the game to them. Be aggressive. Be
physical. And it worked out."



Steve Nash had 15 points and 10 assists, while Dwight Howard
added 11 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers' 13th win in 18
games. Los Angeles hung on for a quality win over the Hawks, a
near-certain playoff team with ample motivation to knock off the
high-profile Lakers.



Kobe wouldn't allow it, making one big play after another down
the stretch. Afterward, he repeatedly compared himself to a fine
wine - only getting better with age.



"It was more of a message to my team here, to kind of have that
will, that hunger, to push through it by any means necessary,"
he said. "It's just a challenge. I wouldn't even really
categorize it as fun. The fun comes in the challenge, and we're
up for it."



The Lakers hadn't been at .500 since Dec. 28, when they followed
a win over Portland with six consecutive losses. They've spent
the past six weeks digging themselves out of the latest hole in
their rut-filled season, culminating in a lengthy stretch of
recent solid play despite the absence of injured 7-footer Pau
Gasol.



If the Lakers manage to upset Oklahoma City on Tuesday night,
they would have their first winning record since Nov. 20, when
they beat Brooklyn in coach Mike D'Antoni's debut to go 6-5.



Al Horford scored 24 points and Smith had 19 for the Hawks, who
had won four straight before consecutive road losses to the Suns
and Lakers. Atlanta hasn't beaten the Lakers anywhere since
March 31, 2010.



Smith relished his matchup with Bryant, even if he got the short
end of it.



"He's been doing it for a long time, so you have to respect what
he brings to the table," Smith said. "He's an assassin. He wants
that moment. But from a defensive standpoint, I love taking a
challenge like that and try to step up and try to make it tough
for him. It was kind of like a tug-of-war match. We were going
back and forth, and they made one more play than we did to win
the game. I live for moments like this."



Bryant put the Lakers up 96-95 with 2:18 to play on that
ferocious dunk. After turnovers by both teams, Jeff Teague
reclaimed the lead for Atlanta with 45 seconds left on a
floating layup in traffic.



After Bryant hit two free throws, Horford put the Hawks back
ahead with a dunk on a backdoor pass from Smith with 26.7
seconds left. But Bryant drove around Horford and right into
Smith at the rim, willing the ball over his defense.



"There's a reason why he's the best player in the game," Horford
said of Bryant. "He did what he usually does, and we didn't do a
good enough job on him. It's disappointing. We thought we worked
hard and put ourselves in a position to win. We just had too
many mistakes down the stretch."



Devin Harris scored 12 of his 16 points in a three-minute spree
late in the third quarter while Atlanta erased Los Angeles' big
lead.



NOTES: The Hawks finish their trip Monday night in Denver. ...
Atlanta coach Larry Drew was able to attend his son's final UCLA
home game on Saturday thanks to the fortunate coincidence in the
Hawks' schedule. Drew considers Los Angeles home after playing
for the Clippers and Lakers, followed by a lengthy stint as a
Lakers assistant coach in the 1990s prior to Phil Jackson's
arrival. ... Novak Djokovic visited the Lakers' locker room with
fellow tennis player Justin Gimelstob before the game. One day
after winning the Dubai Championships halfway around the globe,
Djokovic spoke at length with Howard, who claims he won a school
tennis tournament as a kid.

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