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Atkins scores 30, Kobe 29 as showdown with Heat looms

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Once the game was over, almost all the talk
in the Los Angeles Lakers' dressing room turned to Saturday.

"Didn't we have a game tonight?" Kobe Bryant wondered with a
smile.

Yes, the Lakers had a game: Chucky Atkins scored a season-high
30 points, Chris Mihm had 21 rebounds to match the highest total in
the NBA this season, and the Lakers beat the New Orleans Hornets
101-89 on Wednesday night.

Now, the Lakers can focus their attention on Saturday's much
anticipated game against Miami -- their first against Shaquille
O'Neal since they traded him last summer.

"I'm patient," Bryant said with a smile. "I'm just waiting,
man, trying to get healthy. My foot's sore right now. But I'll be
ready to go Saturday.

"Now that it's here, I'm really excited."

Bryant spoke as if his highly publicized differences with O'Neal
don't exist.

"I see him, I'll say, `What's up?' to him," Bryant said. "He
should be received with open arms. People should remember what he
did for this organization."

Bryant and O'Neal teamed to lead the Lakers to three straight
championships and four berths in the NBA Finals in five years.

Now, as Bryant pointed out, O'Neal is in Miami and the Heat are
playing very well, with the Eastern Conference's best record.

And the Bryant-led Lakers are a young team battling for a
playoff berth in the difficult Western Conference.

Bryant had his second straight off-shooting night against the
Hornets, but scored 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as
the Lakers (14-11) snapped a two-game losing streak -- both at home.
They haven't lost three straight home games since February 1999.

Coming off a 2-of-16 performance in an 82-72 loss to Memphis,
Bryant shot 9-of-26.

"Speaking with my teammates, they wanted me to be a little more
assertive offensively," Bryant said. `I tried to do that a little
bit and take the cobwebs off my jump shot."

The loss was the fourth straight for the injury depleted
Hornets, who are an NBA-worst 2-23.

New Orleans star Baron Davis played for the first time since
Nov. 12 and was terrific, getting 17 points and five assists in 17
minutes.

He missed 19 games because of an inflamed disc in his lower
back.

"I felt great out there, but a little weak," he said. "Going
to the hole, I couldn't really explode like I wanted to. I'm not
where I should be and I think it's going to take a little while, so
I'm happy just to use this time as rehab.

"It just felt good to be back out there with my teammates and
to be creating and playing."

Mihm got his 16th rebound with 6½ minutes left in the third
quarter to surpass his previous career high. He also had 11 points
and five blocked shots.

"A career-high, league-leader, that's awesome," Mihm said.
"They only had one guy boxing me out. I'm happy about my
performance and happier we got the win."

Caron Butler scored 13 points and Lamar Odom had 10 points and
13 rebounds for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Hornets 65-40.

Butler was ejected for appearing to take a swing at Dan Dickau
with 3½ minutes left after Dickau tripped Butler. The trip didn't
appear to be intentional.

Butler denied trying to punch Dickau and said he didn't believe
he'd receive a suspension. If he does, it'll be for Saturday's
game.

"It was just a natural reaction to pull him off my leg,"
Butler said. "That was it. I've known Dan for a while, he's a cool
dude."

Dickau said he didn't know why Butler got ejected.

"It was no big deal," Dickau said. "I kind of got into a
crease and didn't make the right decision and we kind of got
tangled up. I think my arm must have gotten wrapped around his leg
a little bit and he must have thought that I was trying to do
something a little more than what I did, obviously. It's too bad he
got ejected. I mean, it wasn't anything intentional."

David Wesley led New Orleans with 20 points and six assists. Lee
Nailon scored 18 points and P.J. Brown had 14 points and 17
rebounds for the Hornets.

The Lakers led by only three points before a 3-pointer by Atkins
and a dunk by Bryant gave them a 90-82 advantage with 3½ minutes
remaining. The Hornets weren't closer than six points after that.

The Lakers scored 13 straight points, including six by Atkins
and five by Bryant, for a 69-54 lead late in the third quarter.

Suddenly, Davis scored 14 points in less than four minutes on
four 3-pointers and a long jumper as the Hornets drew within three
points with 9½ minutes left.

Game notes
Davis has played in only six games this season. He missed
15 with a sprained left ankle last season and 24 because of knee
and back problems two years ago. ... Dickau made his first start in
the 108th game of his NBA career. He had nine points and five
assists. ... Since moving to Staples Center five years ago, the
Lakers have had six two-game losing streaks at home but none of
more than two. ... The Lakers placed C Vlade Divac on the injured
list because of a sore back and activated F Brian Grant.