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Kobe scores 35 as Lakers romp, clinch seventh

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant did his best this season to turn
around the Los Angeles Lakers. He hopes what he and the team
accomplished is just the beginning.

Bryant scored 27 of his 35 points in the first half to
officially win his first scoring title with the NBA's highest
scoring average in 19 years, and the Lakers beat the New Orleans
Hornets 115-95 Wednesday night to clinch seventh place in the
Western Conference.

"It was a good season for me individually. I'm more proud of
what we accomplished as a team, getting to the postseason," Bryant
said.

The Lakers face the two-time reigning Pacific Division champion
Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. The best-of-seven
series begins Sunday in Phoenix.

The Lakers enter the postseason having won five straight games --
their longest winning streak in more than two years -- and 11 of
their last 14 to put them a season-high eight games over .500 at
45-37.

"At the end of the season, here we are -- playing our best
basketball," Bryant said.

The mood is entirely different than at this time last year, when
the Lakers dropped 19 of their final 21 to finish 34-48 and miss
the playoffs for just the second time in 30 years.

"This is why you come out and work," Lakers forward Lamar Odom
said. "You put your time out in the gym, and being a little kid
from New York, shoveling snow, dreaming of one day playing in the
NBA playoffs, give yourself a chance to win the NBA championship."

Bryant, making a late-season case for league MVP honors,
averaged 35.4 points, the NBA's best since Michael Jordan averaged
37.1 points in the 1986-87 season. Bryant all but sewed up the
scoring title several weeks ago.

Bryant came out of the game with 2:21 left in the third quarter
and the Lakers leading 91-55. He played 29 minutes and shot
13-of-26 from the floor, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range, and
5-of-5 from the foul line.

Bryant's average is the eighth-highest in history, and his 2,832
points rank seventh on the all-time single-season list. The only
players to score more points in a season are Wilt Chamberlain, who
did it five times, and Jordan, who did it once.

"If feels good to be mentioned among the elite players who have
ever played the game," Bryant said. "The ultimate goal is to win
a title. That's my focus, from here on out, the rest of my career,
to get back to the top.

"That's what drives me. It might take some time. It might be
sooner than later."

Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three
championships, from 2000-02, and to the NBA Finals two years ago.
O'Neal was traded and coach Phil Jackson let go after the Lakers
lost to Detroit in the 2004 Finals, but last season was a disaster.

Jackson returned this season, and with Bryant leading the way,
the Lakers accomplished their goal of making the playoffs.

"It's been a remarkable year for him," Jackson said. "Out of
necessity, he kind of carried us on his shoulders the first couple
months, and as the season got into the middle part, he actually
took off and had some remarkable games. He just went on a tear from
that point on in the season. Things just clicked for him."

Kwame Brown had 19 points and eight rebounds, Brian Cook scored
12 points, and Smush Parker and Devean George added 10 apiece for
the Lakers.

P.J. Brown scored 16 points and Marc Jackson had 15 points and
13 rebounds for the Hornets, who lost 19 of their last 26 games to
finish with a 38-44 record. They played the finale without four
prominent players -- leading scorer David West (sore left ankle);
third-leading scorer Speedy Claxton (sore knees); Kirk Snyder (sore
hamstring), and Aaron Williams (sore right knee).

The Lakers never trailed. Cook scored seven points during a 16-4
run to finish the first quarter, giving them a 32-20 lead. The
Hornets weren't closer than 12 points after that.

"It's been a long, strange year," said Hornets coach Byron
Scott, whose team played most of its games in Oklahoma City because
of the Hurricane Katrina. "It doesn't matter what happened tonight
-- I was going to be proud of the way our guys played this season.

"We didn't end it the way we wanted to the last four games, but
we made big-time progress from where a lot of people expected us to
be at this particular point, and we have a lot to look forward
to."

Game notes
Chris Mihm played for the first time since severely
spraining his right ankle March 12. Mihm, a starter before being
hurt, had two points and one rebound in 14 minutes. "I'm just
happy to be back and have a chance to go here," he said. "I don't
know how much better it's going to get. Final rehab and rest is
what's going to heal this thing fully." ... The Lakers went 3-1
against the Hornets this season, and have won 15 of the last 18
games between the teams, including nine of the last 10 in Los
Angeles ... Scott, who played 11 seasons for the Lakers, said he'll
be pulling for his former team in the playoffs. "I'll always bleed
purple and gold, but I'm not going to give up any wins," he said
before the game. ... Lakers F Luke Walton was elbowed in the left
side of the face in the first quarter. He was taken to Centinela
Hospital for X-rays and CT scans, which revealed no fractures.