The Los Angeles Lakers overcame sloppy play to pull out a 101-100 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, getting the win in Pau Gasol's first action since missing eight games with knee tendonitis.
The youthful Bobcats players took full advantage of Los Angeles' sloppy defense, which bordered on non-existent at times, racing out to a 16-8 at the outset of Tuesday night's game at Staples Center and leading for significant stretches.
In a see-saw first half, the Lakers went on a 17-4 run en route to a 40-29 lead before the Bobcats got the momentum back in their favor thanks in large part to the play of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.
Charlotte then took the lead back at 53-51 when former Laker Ramon Sessions hit a 3-pointer.
In the early part of the third quarter, the Lakers were completely out-of-sync on offense and eventually fell behind by 18 points at 78-60 to the chagrin of head coach Mike D'Antoni, who seemed rattled by the cascade of boos by the L.A. fans.
The Lakers were able to get back on track thanks to some strong defense and cut the lead to 84-77 heading into the fourth quarter after a pair of 3-pointers by star forward Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers then seemed to take complete control of the game when they went on a 13-0 run to lead 90-84, but some sloppy play late nearly cost them the victory.
Charlotte cut the lead to 101-100 when Henderson completed a three-point play and had a chance to sneak away with an upset after rebounding a missed outside shot by Bryant.
On the Bobcats' final possession, however, Lakers center Dwight Howard blocked a shot at close range by Walker and then Henderson misfired on a shot after grabbing an offensive rebound. Finally, a last-second heave from behind the arc by Ben Gordon was off the mark and the Lakers escaped with the win.
For the game, Bryant led the Lakers in scoring with 30 points, while Howard added 16 points and 18 rebounds.
Gasol, who started in his first game back from injury, ended up with 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
Walker led the way for the Bobcats with 28 points.
The Lakers have struggled due to lack of chemistry and injuries and their record is still under .500 at 12-14.
D'Antoni was hired to replace Mike Brown, who was abruptly dismissed after the star-studded team got off to a disappointing 1-4 start. The team briefly got on track under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, going 4-1 to run its record to .500, but has struggled again since D'Antoni took the reins.
High expectations surround the Lakers this season after the offseason acquisitions of Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year, and Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP who is currently out of action while recovering from a non-displaced leg fracture.
In other action Tuesday night in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-99, the Atlanta Hawks edged the Washington Wizards 100-95 in overtime, the Miami Heat topped the Minnesota Timberwolves 103-92, the Utah Jazz pulled out a 92-90 victory over the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Indiana Pacers 98-93.
The Chicago Bulls cruised past the Boston Celtics 100-89, the Dallas Mavericks clipped the Philadelphia 76ers 107-100, the Denver Nuggets edged the San Antonio Spurs 112-106 and the Golden State Warriors defeated the New Orleans Hornets 103-96. EFE