LOS ANGELES (AP) - Phil Jackson always keeps his Los Angeles Lakers far more focused on the day-to-day journey than the destination during the regular-season grind, even though the last five weeks of their trek have been awfully smooth.
The New Orleans Hornets? They were reminded they're heading down a perilous road without David West.
Kobe Bryant scored 30 points, Pau Gasol had 23 points and 16 rebounds, and the Lakers inched closer to the top of the overall NBA standings with their 15th win in 16 games since the All-Star break, 102-84 over New Orleans on Sunday night.
Andrew Bynum added 13 points as the Lakers jumped to an 18-point lead in the first half and weathered the Hornets' fourth-quarter rally to sweep the four-game season series with a possible first-round playoff opponent.
With the next three days off before a showdown with Dallas, Jackson still sees plenty of areas of improvement for the Lakers even after they easily handled the West's seventh-place team.
``I think we have to get some guys shooting well and get some rhythm,' Jackson said after his Lakers' seventh straight win. ``Defensively, we're doing some things that are pretty good, but there's some work we have to do in that area, too.'
With their remarkable five-week surge since hosting the All-Star game, the Lakers (53-20) have pulled within a half-game of Chicago (53-19) for the NBA's second-best record, something that could come in handy if the Lakers reach their fourth straight NBA finals.
Los Angeles also pulled within four games of the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs (57-16), who lost at Memphis. Both teams have nine games to go, including a meeting at Staples Center on April 12.
``We're not so much looking at San Antonio and saying we can catch them,' said Derek Fisher, who went 1 for 8 but contributed to the Lakers' sound defense on Chris Paul. ``We're saying we want to win our games, and then you can see how it shakes out, but if you win, by default you're playing the way you need to play anyway.'
The Lakers haven't lost to anybody except Miami since they staggered into the break with three straight losses in mid-February. They're fully exploiting their size advantages and using their veteran poise against undersized New Orleans and everybody else with the nonchalant ease of two-time defending champions.
``It's good, but don't make a big deal out of this,' Gasol said. ``It's not a big deal if we end up 24-1. What matters is we get to the playoffs healthy and with the best record possible.'
Carl Landry had a season-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul had 10 points and nine assists in the Hornets' second game without West, their injured scoring leader.
Emeka Okafor had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Landry was a whirlwind of activity in his second straight start for the Hornets, who aren't looking forward to life without West. The two-time All-Star is done for the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee during Thursday's win at Utah.
``We've dealt with adversity all year,' rookie coach Monty Williams said. ``Since I signed here, it's been one thing after another. ... Life isn't fair. Where we live at, New Orleans, you think anybody is going to listen to us complain about basketball with the money you're getting paid?'
Williams said he's ``racking my brain every night' to figure out effective lineups that don't include West. New Orleans knocked off Phoenix on Friday night in the middle stop on a three-game road trip, but Williams realizes his team must make a profound readjustment just to stay in the postseason picture.
Memphis' win over the Spurs pulled the Grizzlies within one game of the seventh-place Hornets, and Houston is lurking just 3 1/2 games back with a game in hand.
``The good thing about our situation is that we have a string of home games to end the season,' said Jarrett Jack, who scored eight points. ``If there's any way you can do it or write it up, you'd love to do it in front of your own crowd, take the travel element out of it, and finish up strong.'
Bynum and Lamar Odom both struggled with foul trouble, sometimes negating the Lakers' large advantages inside against New Orleans. Bryant missed five of his six 3-point attempts, but otherwise scored easily and often.
``This league is all about matchups,' Paul said. ``It's funny, the Lakers have had problems with the Bobcats over the past year, so it's all matchups, and this is not a team we match up with good this year.'
New Orleans pulled within 78-72 on Quincy Pondexter's jumper with 8:17 to play, but the Lakers made a 12-4 run capped by Steve Blake's 3-pointer.
``It's disappointing when you blow a big lead,' Bryant said. ``But the key is we were able to regroup and push it back up again.'
NOTES: Okafor spent Saturday in Anaheim cheering on his Connecticut Huskies as they advanced to their fourth Final Four. Okafor led UConn to the 2004 title. ... A camera crew from the reality show Odom is filming with wife Khloe Kardashian was in the Lakers' locker room before the game. ... Fans near courtside included Tom Cruise, January Jones, David Beckham, Jennifer Carpenter, Mark Harmon, Teri Hatcher, Simon Baker, Vanessa Hudgens, Ralph Macchio, Jeremy Piven and A.C. Green.
The Associated Press News Service
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