NEW ORLEANS —Before Kobe Bryant had even turned in his latest dominant performance, NBA Commissioner David Stern sought him out to offer a congratulatory hand shake for the extraordinary scoring milestone the Lakers star was about to surpass.
Stern assumed Bryant would score the 13 points he needed to become only the fifth player in NBA history to reach 30,000, and who wouldn’t?
Bryant had 17 points by halftime, finished with 29, and Los Angeles snapped a two-game skid with a 103-87 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.
“He just congratulated me and told me I was one of the best competitors that he’s seen in this game and I really appreciated that,” Bryant said of his pregame exchange with Stern.
Now Bryant in is elite company. The only other players to score more than 30,000 are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Bryant said. “These are players I respect tremendously and obviously grew up idolizing and watching and learned a great deal from.”
When Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was asked before tipoff about Bryant’s impending milestone, the coach joked, “That just means he is old.”
In fact, at 34, Bryant is younger than the other four were when they hit the mark, but Bryant also turned pro at 18, and is in his 17th season.
“Honestly, I don’t know why I’m still working as hard as I am after 17 years,” Bryant said. “I enjoy what I do. I think that’s the thing that I’m most proud of: every year, every day working hard at it. It’s a lot of years, a lot of work.”
Bryant eclipsed the scoring milestone with a short jumper late in the first half that was perhaps the least spectacular of his baskets, which included the usual array of soaring dunks, demoralizing transition 3-pointers and turnaround, off-balance jumpers.
Dwight Howard added 18 points and five blocked shots for the Lakers, who trailed 48-47 at halftime but seized control with a 13-0 run to open the third quarter, and the lead grew as large as 20 in the fourth.
Ryan Anderson scored 31, hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers for the Hornets, who were playing their ninth straight game without top overall draft choice Anthony Davis. Greivis Vasquez added 16 points, while Robin Lopez scored 15 points and blocked five shots.
Anderson said Bryant “deserves all the recognition that he gets.”
“He’s a special guy to play against. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win,” Anderson added. “I would have liked him to get the 30,000, but for us to get the win.”
Antawn Jamison scored 15 and Metta World Peace 11, and Chris Duhon had 10 assists for Los Angeles, which is playing without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol and won for only the second time on the road this season. The Hornets fell to 3-7 at home and lost for the 10th time in 12 games overall.
Notes: Stern said the scheduling that allowed him to see Bryant reach 30,000 was pure coincidence. Stern was making a regularly scheduled visit with first-year Hornets owner Tom Benson, who is also the owner of the NFL’s Saints, to see how Benson’s plans for the NBA franchise were taking shape.
SPURS 110, BUCKS 99
SAN ANTONIO —Tony Parker and Gary Neal each scored 22 points, and San Antonio had a season-high 53 rebounds in the win over Milwaukee.
Tim Duncan added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs. Tiago Splitter had 15 points, Manu Ginobili scored 11 and Matt Bonner had a season-high 12 rebounds.
Monta Ellis had 21 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings added 14 points and Ersan Ilyasova scored all of his 17 points in the first half.
San Antonio, which went on a 36-15 run bridging the final two quarters to pull away, outrebounded Milwaukee 53-36, including a 28-17 advantage in the second half.
KNICKS 100, BOBCATS 98
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —J.R. Smith hit a fallaway jumper from the left wing as time expired to give New York a win over Charlotte.
The Bobcats appeared in position to win after a miss by Raymond Felton with 14 seconds left, but rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made an ill-advised pass and Smith intercepted it.
After a timeout, Smith drove to the left side and hit an 18-footer over Kidd-Gilchrist.
Carmelo Anthony scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half for New York and Tyson Chandler had 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Kemba Walker scored 25 points for the Bobcats.
CLIPPERS 112, MAVERICKS 90
LOS ANGELES —Blake Griffin had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 14 points and 13 assists, propelling Los Angeles over Dallas for its fourth straight victory.
Jamal Crawford had 20 points, Caron Butler scored 16 and DeAndre Jordan 12 for the Clippers, who shot 50 percent and dominated the entire game, keeping Dallas owner Mark Cuban glued to his seat with his chin cupped in his left hand.
Reserve Vince Carter scored 16 points for Dallas. Derek Fisher added 15 points, and Shawn Marion and Chris Kaman had 14 points apiece for the Mavericks, who fell to 2-7 on the road.
PACERS 99, TRAIL BLAZERS 92
INDIANAPOLIS —Paul George scored 22 points and George Hill added 18 to help Indiana beat Portland.
David West had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers (10-9), who have won four of five and moved above .500 for the first time since a 2-1 start.
Damian Lillard led Portland with 23 points. Wesley Matthews scored 19, LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and J.J. Hickson had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Trail Blazers.
Indiana outscored Portland 31-14 in the third quarter to take control. The Blazers made a push in the fourth but could get no closer than four.
CELTICS 104, TIMBERWOLVES 94
BOSTON —Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 10 rebounds and remained unbeaten against his former team as Boston beat Minnesota in Rajon Rondo’s return from a two-game suspension.
The Celtics improved to 10-0 against Minnesota since they acquired Garnett from the Timberwolves during the summer of 2007.
Boston went 1-1 without Rondo, suspended for his role in a scuffle during a game against the Brooklyn Nets last Wednesday. Rondo had 17 points and 11 assists, Paul Pierce scored 18, Jason Terry 17 and Brandon Bass 12 for the Celtics.
Kevin Love had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Nikola Pekovic scored 14 for the Timberwolves.
WARRIORS 104, PISTONS 97
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. —Klay Thompson scored 19 of his 27 points in the third quarter to help Golden State pull away to beat Detroit.
The Warriors, starting a seven-game Eastern trip, snapped Detroit’s five-game winning streak at home. Golden State has won two straight games in Detroit after losing 25 of 29.
Stephen Curry finished with 22 points and 10 assists, his fourth straight 20-10 game, while David Lee added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Warriors.
Tayshaun Prince was the only Pistons starter to reach double figures with 24 points. Rodney Stuckey had 17 points and fellow reserve Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
HAWKS 108, NUGGETS 104
ATLANTA —Josh Smith’s steal, jam and free throw with 31 seconds remaining extended Atlanta’s lead and the Hawks held on to beat Denver.
Smith had 16 points and 13 rebounds on his 27th birthday, while Al Horford led the Hawks with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Ty Lawson paced Denver with a season-high 32 points and Corey Brewer added 19.
Lawson’s 3-pointer gave the Nuggets a 101-99 advantage before Horford hit a tying jumper.
Lou Williams made two free throws to put Atlanta up by two before Smith stole the ball from Lawson and completed a fast break with a dunk over Brewer, who was called for a foul.
BULLS 95, CAVALIERS 85
CLEVELAND —Marco Belinelli scored a season-high 23 points, Luol Deng added 22, and Chicago took control early on to beat Cleveland.
Belinelli, starting his second straight game in place of injured shooting guard Richard Hamilton, helped the Bulls bounce back from a four-point home loss to Indiana on Tuesday. They went ahead for good less than two minutes in and shot 66.7 percent in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers have lost 13 of 15 and are 2-7 since point guard Kyrie Irving broke his left index finger last month. Anderson Varejao recorded his 10th straight double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds — his 10th straight game with at least 15 boards.
KINGS 107, RAPTORS 100
SACRAMENTO, Calif. —DeMarcus Cousins had 25 points and 13 rebounds to help Sacramento beat Toronto for only its third win in the last 12 games.
The Kings used strong fourth-quarter play from Cousins and Tyreke Evans to earn a rare victory. Sacramento suffered an embarrassing 35-point loss Sunday against the Clippers.
Evans, back in the starting lineup after missing the past two games with a bruised left knee, scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. Jason Thompson added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, while John Salmons scored 12 and Aaron Brooks 11.
Kyle Lowry scored 29 of his 34 points in the second half for the Raptors.
JAZZ 87, MAGIC 81
SALT LAKE CITY —Al Jefferson scored a season-high 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Utah over Orlando.
Jefferson had just eight points at halftime but scored 17 in the third quarter and was the difference down the stretch as the Jazz held off a furious Orlando comeback attempt.
Orlando trailed by 14 in the first half and by 11 entering the fourth but took a 79-78 lead on Glen Davis’ powerful jam.
Randy Foye’s 3-pointer and back-to-back jumpers by Jefferson sealed it for Utah.
Davis led Orlando with 18 points, Jameer Nelson had 17, and Arron Afflalo added 16.