NEW ORLEANS • With chants of "M-V-P" echoing in his ears on Thursday from what should have been a hostile crowd, Kobe Bryant took centre stage in one of the command performances of his 20-year National Basketball Association career.
Perhaps playing on the New Orleans stage for the last time, he nailed three long-range jumpers in the final six minutes and scored 12 of the Lakers' final 14 points for a team-high 27 that powered the Los Angeles Lakers to a 99-96 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Centre.
"It makes me feel great," Bryant said of turning a Pelicans crowd into Kobe admirers.
"It makes me feel like all the hard work I put in throughout the years has been worth it - to see the reactions from the fans and the signs."
He re-entered the game with the Lakers, who had led by 12 just a few minutes earlier, now clinging to an 85-79 lead.
STEPPING UP WHEN NEEDED
Kobe's leading by example of how to kind of step on people's necks when we have the chance to... He did what Kobe Bryant does.
BYRON SCOTT, Lakers head coach, on Kobe Bryant thriving in pressure situations.
He immediately hit a three-pointer from the right wing and came back on the Lakers' next possession to nail another long-range jumper from the left wing.
Each time his shot fell, the Pelicans' home crowd erupted in cheers.
"He's done it for the last 19 seasons," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who had warned his team of the home crowd turning if Bryant was allowed to get on a roll.
"When that happens, the 'Kobe Factor' becomes a possibility, and that's exactly what happened."
The Lakers (11-41), who had lost 14 of their previous 16 games, hung on for the victory when guard Jrue Holiday's contested three-pointer from the top of the key fell short of the rim at the buzzer.
The Pelicans (18-31) lost their third consecutive game despite a game-high 39 points and 11 rebounds by forward Anthony Davis.
Lakers coach Byron Scott said he was almost flabbergasted by the way in which Bryant - who has made back-to-back 25-point games for the first time since November 2014 - seems to have regained a bounce in his step after playing through shoulder and leg injuries.
In a 119-115 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday, Bryant scored a season-high 38 points, including 14 of the Lakers' final 18 points.
In the last two wins, Bryant has made 11 of 22 long-range jumpers.
"Kobe's leading by example of how to kind of step on people's necks when we have the chance to," Scott said.
"He's got a lot of pep in his step, for whatever reason.
"He did what Kobe Bryant does. He's used to being put in that situation. He loves that.
"Seeing him hit that big three and hit free throws down the stretch, that's what it's all about.
"The roll he's on right now is just good to watch."