Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard set the tone on both ends of the court for the Los Angeles Lakers in a comfortable 104-88 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center.
Bryant, who has now scored 20 or more points in 22 straight games, ended Tuesday night’s contest with 31 points on an efficient 12-of-19 from the field and six assists, while Howard dominated the paint to the tune of 31 points and 16 rebounds.
The pair also led the way on defense as the Lakers improved their record to 17-21.
Bryant hounded the Bucks’ star point guard, Brandon Jennings, throughout the game, holding him to just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Howard, meanwhile, made his defensive presence felt with four blocked shots
Another key to the game was the Lakers’ ball movement, as head coach Mike D’Antoni’s squad finished the first quarter with 10 assists and the first half with 21.
The Bucks battled back after an early 23-11 deficit to take a 44-41 lead in the second quarter, but the Lakers ended the half on a 16-6 run thanks to the 3-point shooting of Antawn Jamison and good shot selection by Bryant.
While the Lakers’ starters dominated the action on both sides of the floor, Los Angeles’ play dropped off sharply when the reserves took the court, giving up sizable leads in both the first and second halves and proving unable to contain Jennings and backcourt mate Monta Ellis.
But thanks in large part to the outstanding play of Bryant and Howard, the Lakers turned a slim 69-67 third-quarter lead into a 20-point blowout midway through the fourth quarter.
Ellis led the way for the Bucks, whose record fell to 19-18.
The win - D’Antoni’s 400th in his career - was the Lakers’ second in a row after six straight losses and gives the team some momentum heading into Thursday’s showdown at Staples Center against the defending champion Miami Heat.
High expectations surround the Lakers this season after the offseason acquisitions of Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year who was out earlier this month with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and point guard Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP who also missed time earlier in the season due to a leg injury.
The team struggled out of the gates under then-head coach Mike Brown, briefly got on track under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, and has suffered from injuries and poor play again since D’Antoni took the reins in late November.
Power forward Pau Gasol, a key part of the Lakers’ championships in 2009 and 2010, is still out with a concussion.
In other NBA action Tuesday night, the New Orleans Hornets defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 111-99, the Indiana Pacers routed the Charlotte Bobcats 103-76, the Brooklyn Nets edged the Toronto Raptors 113-106, the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Houston Rockets 117-109, and the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers 115-111 in overtime.
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