Kobe Bryant added 32 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:20 left to give the Lakers the lead for good in what turned out to be a surprisingly frenetic struggle against the undermanned Hornets, who've now dropped all three games against the two-time defending champions this season.
Chris Paul had 21 points and 15 assists as the Hornets, without starters Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, clawed back from a deficit as large as 14 to take a couple brief leads in the second half.
Paul's driving floater tied it at 92 with 3:43 left, but the Lakers held New Orleans to a 3-pointer by Marco Belinelli after that.
David West had 16 points and 12 rebounds, but was limited to 31 minutes because of foul trouble. Marcus Thornton added 14 points and David Andersen 11 for New Orleans.
Andrew Bynum scored 12 points for the Lakers, who turned the ball over a season-low four times and were the stronger team inside, forcing the Hornets to foul frequently underneath. Los Angeles was 23 of 27 on free throws, while the Hornets were only 4 of 4 and did not go to the foul line in the second half.
Officials called 22 fouls on the Hornets, compared to only 11 on the Lakers, and the crowd noticed the disparity, booing heartily when key calls went against New Orleans.
Still, the game didn't start to get away from the Hornets until Lamar Odom tipped in Bryant's missed jumper to make it 97-92 with 2:49 to go. The Lakers then got consecutive stops, and Gasol and Bryant each made a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds.
The Lakers came in having lost three of four, but two of those losses came against conference leaders Boston and San Antonio, with the loss to the Spurs coming on a basket in the final seconds.
The Hornets also have been struggling, largely because of injuries. Starting center Emeka Okafor has been out for a week with a strained left oblique muscle and his replacement, 7-footer Jason Smith, was out with an illness. Ariza, one of the Hornets' top one-on-one defenders who normally would have guarded Bryant, was out with a sprained right ankle.
Instead, New Orleans started Aaron Gray at center and rookie Quincy Pondexter at small forward. Gray had season highs of 10 points and 10 rebounds in his first start since being acquired in a trade from Chicago last season.
Los Angeles took its first double-digit lead in the first quarter when Ron Artest's 3 made it 27-16. The Lakers used a 7-0 run in the second quarter, highlighted by Gasol's dunk and Bryant's transition 3, to go up by as much as 51-37.
Gasol had 19 points and Bryant 18 in the first half.
West helped the Hornets prevent a blowout with 14 points and nine rebounds before the break and the Hornets closed to 56-50 on Thornton's 3 from the corner at the halftime horn.
The Hornets appeared to be in trouble when West went to the bench with his fourth foul with 8:38 to go in the third and the Lakers up 62-53. Instead, New Orleans turned in a scrappy period in which it made 13 of 21 shots.
Paul followed Andersen's lone 3 with two of his own late in the third quarter, the last giving the Hornets their first lead of the game at 82-81 in the last second of the third quarter.
NOTES: New Orleans' newly acquired swingman Sasha Pavlovic, who signed a 10-day contract on Friday, saw his first action late in the first quarter. He played nearly 10 minutes and had three assists and a rebound. ... The Hornets are 20-6 at home this season and entered with a seven-game home winning streak. ... For Los Angeles, which is 16-8 away from home, the game was the first of a seven-game trip that continues Monday at Memphis and includes stops at Boston, New York, Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland. ... Hornets reserve center D.J. Mbenga scored a season-high eight points.