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Lakers top Bulls to move into playoff position

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers got to find out how the other side lives on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

How's that?

Legs kicked up, arms behind the head, chair reclined, iced tea on the table.

They like it better this way.

After two huge, draining comebacks in a week, the Los Angeles Lakers lived easy Sunday in a 90-81 win over the visiting Chicago Bulls. The victory moved the Lakers into playoff position in the Western Conference, a half-game better than idle Utah for the No. 8 seed.

Four days after a 25-point comeback in a win at New Orleans and two days after a 15-point comeback against the Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles glided to the win behind a balanced offensive effort and the defense of Dwight Howard.

Six Lakers scored in double figures, led by Kobe Bryant's 19, and Howard scored 16 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked four shots.

"His activity is unbelievable," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of Howard. "He controls the paint, grabs every rebound and stops the pick-and-roll. And he and Kobe are learning to get on the same page offensively. A little bit of chemistry is developing."

Bryant, who became the first Laker since Jerry West to register 40 points and 10 assists in back-to-back games during the two comeback wins, again lifted the Lakers (33-31) in various ways. Bryant added nine assists and seven rebounds for streaking Los Angeles, which has won three straight and moved to two games above .500 for the first time this season.

"We're just playing much better," Bryant said. "We've found a pretty good rhythm offensively and defensively. Attitude-wise, we're just trying to muscle through these games."

Bryant said of his chemistry with Howard: "It's there, just kind of depends on the coverage and what we see. Tonight, I saw something that we could take advantage of, which was the backside action, and that's what we want, too."

Steve Nash had 16 points and Metta World Peace added 12 despite shooting 0-for-6 from 3-point range. The Lakers as a team shot just 5-for-26 from behind the arc, but they held Chicago to just 4-for-16 from long range.

The Bulls did little better inside, shooting 37.1 percent from the field overall as Howard altered shots in the post.

"I thought Dwight Howard in particular in the first half set the tone," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He just dominated the paint, with shot-blocking, rebounding, physicality."

Nate Robinson led Chicago (35-28) with 19 points, eight assists and four steals, and Joakim Noah had 18 points and 17 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. Carlos Boozer had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Luol Deng added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Bulls, who had beaten the Lakers three straight times.

"I feel like we could've played better," Noah said. "I think we're capable of better. Of course, you have to give credit where credit is due. They have a lot of great scorers, and they definitely controlled the boards."

Los Angeles finished with a 50-45 rebounding edge.

As the Lakers push toward a playoff berth that at one point seemed a faint possibility, they appreciated the game's relative relaxation.

"We found ourselves in a big hole (in the standings), so climbing back is a positive," Nash said. "It's just got to keep getting better every night. We can't take our foot off the gas, we can't take anything for granted."

NOTES: Kirk Hinrich (foot) missed the game for the Bulls, and Derrick Rose (torn ACL) remains out. ... Chicago won the first matchup between the two teams, 95-83, on Jan. 21 at the United Center. Hinrich led all scorers with 22, and Nash led Los Angeles with 18 points. ... The Bulls won the lone matchup between the two teams last season on Christmas Day. ... Sunday's game was truly a matchup of different styles and philosophies; the Lakers rank sixth in the NBA in scoring and 26th in scoring defense, while the Bulls rank 28th in scoring but third in scoring defense. ... Bryant's 41-point performance against the Toronto Raptors on Friday was the 119th 40-point performance of his career. ... The Bulls have not won four straight against the Lakers since 1994-1996. Chicago is just 4-6 against Los Angeles in its last 10 games.
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