- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Are we sure Kobe Bryant is really 34 years old and in his 17th season?
Much in the same fashion that Bryant's game seemingly has gotten better with age, he saved his best stuff for the final minutes against the Hawks -- soaring past Josh Smith for his best dunk of the season, knocking down clutch free throws and hitting a tough, driving layup with nine seconds left that proved to be the difference-maker.
How it happened: The Lakers led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter but allowed Atlanta's hot shooters off the bench (Kyle Korver and Devin Harris had 16 points apiece) to get the Hawks back in it. But Bryant and Metta World Peace (two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter) made the plays that mattered in the win.
What it means: All the jokes about the Lakers restarting the season for the umpteenth time aside, the guys in purple and gold got back to the same even record they began the 2012-13 campaign with on Sunday.
At 30-30 with the win over the Hawks, the Lakers are .500 for the first time since Dec. 28, when they were 15-15.
Hits: Bryant did the scoring (34 points on 13-for-27 shooting), Dwight Howard did the rebounding (a game-high 15 boards) and Steve Nash did the passing (a game-high 10 assists). That's how it's supposed to work.
Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 ranked tennis player, visited the Lakers' locker room before the game and spent time with Howard and Antawn Jamison joking and posing for photographs.
Misses: Howard shot 5-for-12 from the field and allowed his frustration to boil over into being called for a technical foul.
Jamison finished 3-for-7 after starting the game 3-for-3.
Stat of the game: This isn't an encouraging one. The Lakers had 21 turnovers, leading to 29 points for Atlanta.
What's next: The Lakers go on the road for a back-to-back tilts starting Tuesday in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have won four of their past five games and are 26-4 at home, including a 114-108 win the last time the Lakers visited Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Lakers follow it up Wednesday on the road against the New Orleans Hornets, who are just 21-39 as of Sunday.
7dAmin Elhassan and Baxter Holmes