After a slow start to the season, it looks as if the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to round into their usual form.
Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, and Dwight Howard added 21 points and 14 rebounds as the host Lakers cruised past the Portland Trail Blazers 104-87 Friday night at the Staples Center.
The Lakers (15-15) took a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter en route to their sixth win in seven games.
Los Angeles coach Mike D'Antoni said his team played with a lot of drive.
"I'm a big believer that the ball will find energy," D'Antoni said. "If you put energy on the floor, you end up with a good game."
Howard spurred the Lakers early with nine points and four rebounds in the first quarter as they took a 34-25 lead.
"He played with a lot of energy and a lot of activity and gave us a huge spark," Bryant said of Howard.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge scored a team-high 26 points, but he came out late in the fourth quarter due to a bruised chest. He is considered probable for the team's Saturday home game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Blazers (14-14) lost for just the second time in eight games, but they continue to struggle on the road. They fell to 4-10 away from the Rose Garden. The road will get tougher when they travel to play the New York Knicks on New Year's Day before going to Memphis and Minnesota.
"That's the sign of a young team," Aldridge said. "You have to learn how to take it with you on the road. That's a part of us growing up."
The Lakers shot 46.5 percent (40-for-86). Pau Gasol was an efficient 6-for-9, including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers, to finish with 15 points. Bryant made nine of 18 shots, and Howard hit seven of 13.
Los Angeles was not effective from the free-throw line, making just 60.7 percent (17 of 28), but that did not hurt them in this game.
Portland shot 41.4 percent (36 of 87) from the floor, led by Aldridge's 12-for-17 performance. The Blazers made 75 percent of their free throws, 12 of 16, but did not get to the line nearly enough.
"We got outplayed tonight," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "The Lakers played really well. We didn't necessarily play well. The Lakers pretty much outplayed us."
The Lakers also won the rebounding battle 52-44.
The teams combined for just 20 turnovers.
Los Angeles never trailed in the contest, and it led by as many as 20 points in the first half. The Lakers held a 62-48 advantage at the break.
"We just came out and we played hard tonight from the beginning," Howard said. "Our effort was there. We played inside-out, ran the ball, and our defense was real good tonight. And Pau was looking like (Dirk) Nowitzki out there. Pau Nowitzki hit two 3s."
NOTES: Howard thought the $35,000 fine he received for his flagrant foul on the Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried was a bit excessive, but he said he'd try to control his frustration in the future. "I got to do a better job of keeping my composure and not getting frustrated and also remember that I'm playing for my teammates at all times and stay on the right path," Howard said Friday. "(The fine) was a lot. It was a lot for a flagrant foul. I'm happy I didn't get suspended, that's the biggest thing." The flagrant foul 2 gives Howard three flagrant points on the season. If he totals five such points, he would be suspended for a game. ... Gasol was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but it didn't keep him out of action. ... Blazers point guard Damian Lillard leads all rookies in scoring and assists and entered Friday's game in the top 15 in scoring, assists and 3-pointers made. He shot just 4-for-17 against the Lakers, finishing with 11 points. ... Portland guard Elliot Williams (left Achilles) did not play. ... Friday's game kicked off a stretch of seven home dates in a 10-game stretch for the Lakers, ending Jan. 17 at home in a nationally televised meeting with the Miami Heat. ... In 50 previous games against Portland, Bryant had an average of 27.3 points per game, his fourth-highest career total against any team (Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors).