LOS ANGELES —
The Lakers hadn't been at .500 since Dec. 28, when they followed a win over Portland with six consecutive losses. They've spent the past six weeks digging themselves out of the latest hole in their rut-filled season, culminating in a lengthy stretch of recent solid play despite the absence of injured 7-footer Pau Gasol.
If the Lakers manage to upset Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, they would have their first winning record since Nov. 20, when they beat Brooklyn in coach Mike D'Antoni's debut to go 6-5.
Al Horford scored 24 points and Smith had 19 for the Hawks, who had won four straight before consecutive road losses to the Suns and Lakers. Atlanta hasn't beaten the Lakers anywhere since March 31, 2010.
Smith relished his matchup with Bryant, even if he got the short end of it.
"He's been doing it for a long time, so you have to respect what he brings to the table," Smith said. "He's an assassin. He wants that moment. But from a defensive standpoint, I love taking a challenge like that and try to step up and try to make it tough for him. It was kind of like a tug-of-war match. We were going back and forth, and they made one more play than we did to win the game. I live for moments like this."
Bryant put the Lakers up 96-95 with 2:18 to play on that ferocious dunk. After turnovers by both teams, Jeff Teague reclaimed the lead for Atlanta with 45 seconds left on a floating layup in traffic.
After Bryant hit two free throws, Horford put the Hawks back ahead with a dunk on a backdoor pass from Smith with 26.7 seconds left. But Bryant drove around Horford and right into Smith at the rim, willing the ball over his defense.