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Lakers show their potential in win over Thunder

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LOS ANGELES -- With Kobe Bryant leading the way, the Lakers finally got a signature win against an elite opponent, and suddenly things are looking up again for that other team in Los Angeles.

Two straight wins do not make a season, and when a team is on the outside looking in at the playoff hunt, nothing is taken for granted.

Still, during a 105-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, the Lakers played an unselfish brand of basketball, showing that a second-half season turnaround and postseason push are no longer out of the question.

The Lakers' confidence is soaring following a convincing win over one of the best teams in the league.

"We finally beat a team worth (something)" Bryant said.

And with the season nearing the halfway point, that's saying something.

With 38 games remaining and the Lakers in 10th place in the Western Conference, there is still enough time to climb into the top eight and make the playoffs.

"We just have to keep believing in each other," Lakers center Dwight Howard said.

Over the past few days, at least, there has been more action and less talk about trust. The Lakers dumped the visiting Utah Jazz 102-84 on Friday.

"I'm happy with how we're playing," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said.

With Bryant compiling 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, the Lakers held off the Thunder and sent a message that their season isn't quite as lost as it appeared as late as a week ago.

"Kobe picked us apart, 14 assists in back-to-back games, I don't know if he's ever had that before," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said, "But that tells you how great he is, he can do so many different parts of the game. Most people can't do it all, and he's one of the few guys in this league that can do it all."

In all, six Lakers scored in double figures, and the team recorded 29 assists on 41 field goals.

Steve Nash had 17 points and five assists for Los Angeles. Pau Gasol scored 16 points, and Metta World Peace finished with 15 points and 10 assists.

All are signs that the Lakers are finally beginning to get on the same page and that maybe, just maybe, they have a major run left in them.

"They're a good team, and they're healthy," Brooks said. "They're going to be good the rest of the year if they stay healthy."

Kevin Durant scored 35 points for the Thunder but Russell Westbrook struggled to produce 17 points on frigid 6-of-22 shooting. Westbrook also had 13 assists and nine rebounds.

The Thunder shot just 36-for-81 (44.4 percent) from the field and made just four of 16 3-point attempts in the last game of a six-game road trip that finished 3-3.

"They just beat us," Brooks said. "I don't know if they're different, they just beat us. We didn't shoot the ball the way we want to shoot it. We did a lot of good things but they just beat us."

In addition to Gasol's contributions, Antawn Jamison added 12 off the Lakers bench.

"They were huge for us today," Bryant said.

If the Lakers are to continue their revival, they'll have to do so away from home. After a Tuesday game against the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center, the Lakers go on a seven-game road trip that could determine whether they are legitimate playoff contenders.

For now, at least, they'll push forward with the momentum of two wins while playing a brand of basketball suited for their personnel.

It's been a long time since that's been said in Los Angeles.

"We have made the second step," D'Antoni said. "We did it the other day. We played the way we wanted to play, and today we did it against probably the best team in the league. We can see our potential that we can live up to."

NOTES: Bryant took just 10 shots Friday against Utah, 11 fewer than his season average. The Lakers rolled with Bryant dishing out 14 assists and five players scoring in double figures, prompting discussion about Bryant sacrificing shots for the sake of the team. Some players and coaches took exception to the term "sacrifice," saying playing the right way should not be construed as some a concession. Rather, they say, it's devising a system that takes advantage of the team's weapons. "I'm sure everybody on this team wants to be the guy," Howard said. "But we have to figure out a way to do it together." ... The Thunder play four of their next five games at home, starting with a Thursday date against the Memphis Grizzlies.
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