LOS ANGELES--It's not what the Los Angeles Lakers ever thought they'd be chasing in March, but a victory Friday would put them over .500 for the first time since their 6-5 record after beating Brooklyn.
That was in November. It was Coach Mike D'Antoni's first game on the Lakers' bench.
It would help against Toronto if Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard continued their one-game run of complementing each other perfectly.
Howard was solid defensively against New Orleans, collecting 15 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals. He also had 20 points as the Lakers rallied from a 25-point deficit for a 108-102 victory Wednesday.
Bryant had 42 points and 12 assists, finding Howard underneath for some easy fourth-quarter baskets.
"That's kind of what everybody envisioned it would be," D'Antoni said.
The big question: Was it the start of a trend or a one-hit wonder?
Maybe the New Orleans game was, dare it be said in a season already full of many so-called do-overs and resets, an upward turn for Howard.
"I hate to say it's a turnaround because that would mean he wasn't playing well, so y'all do what you've got to do," D'Antoni said to reporters.
Sure thing. Howard wasn't playing well.
It was easy to forget in the Lakers' euphoria after beating New Orleans, but Howard made one of seven shots the previous night in a loss to Oklahoma City. He did not have a shot in the second half that night, Bryant and Steve Nash controlling the offense almost entirely from the backcourt.
Howard made nine of 16 shots against New Orleans. That was his most attempts since a Jan. 15 game against Milwaukee.
"I think this game brought us a little closer together as a team," Howard said.
Bryant is averaging 35.1 points and 6.1 assists while shooting 56.4 percent in his last seven games, an extraordinary run for a high-volume shooting guard.
What more could he possibly do? "He can get three more rebounds and get a triple-double," D'Antoni said Wednesday, smiling. "That's about the only thing he could do."
Not so meek
When the Lakers signed free agent Jodie Meeks in August, they thought they found their three-point ace.
It hadn't always been that way this season, but the former part-time starter with Philadelphia had 19 points against New Orleans and made all four of his three-point attempts in the fourth quarter, often after Bryant kicked the ball out to him while driving.
"He played phenomenal," Bryant said. "I had a lock on him, I had radar on him when he was out there. I was just trying to look for him as much as possible. And he just made the defense pay."
Meeks also created a big turnover by forcing Eric Gordon to step out of bounds in the final minute. He is averaging eight points a game and shooting 38.4 percent from three-point range.
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