LOS ANGELES -- If the Lakers are still as good as they hope, there should be more where this came from.
The Lakers handled the Minnesota Timberwolves easily Thursday night, winning in the sort of stress-free style that really good teams do.
Dwight Howard was active and energized from the start, and the Lakers never trailed in a 116-94 victory. Kobe Bryant made shots from the start, and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni not once stormed off the bench into a timeout with his usual display of disgust.
With a victory Sunday against visiting Atlanta, the Lakers would be 30-30 -- back at the baseline for the first time since before their New Year's Day game. They are still outside the Western Conference playoff picture, but it's not hard to see inside now: The Lakers are two games behind No. 8 Houston and 21/2 behind No. 7 Utah.
"We need to be playing well about this point," Bryant said. "We're getting a little closer to striking distance."
More and more often, the Lakers are playing consistently well -- and Howard was still making defensive plays in the fourth quarter even though he finished with just six field-goal attempts. Howard's hard work opened up the floor time after time for teammates.
The Lakers took advantage by nailing 16 of 32 three-point shots.
It was D'Antoni's kind of game, indeed.
His tight eight-man rotation flourished, with all three reserves doing excellent work: Antawn Jamison (17 points, eight rebounds), Jodie Meeks (16 points) and Steve Blake (13 points, seven rebounds, six assists).
Bryant had 33 points, Howard had 13 rebounds and four blocks, and the Lakers won their 12th game out of the past 17.
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