Looking more like the player the Lakers expected, Dwight Howard scored 16 points and grabbed 21 rebounds Sunday.


LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant was asked what it felt like to be a "playoff team," his Lakers having just moved into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference after a 90-81 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

Bryant, who had 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, let out a less-than-enthusiastic "yippee."

The win improved the Lakers to 33-31, the first time they've been two games over .500 all season. They are one-half game ahead of Utah for the final playoff spot. And while the Lakers may feel a sense of accomplishment in reaching playoff position after such a poor start to the season, Bryant is quick to note there is plenty still left to do.

"We're very focused," Bryant said. "We know what we have to do and what lies ahead. Everybody's locked in."

That would include Lakers center Dwight Howard, who is playing more like the player the Lakers hoped they were getting when he was acquired in a trade with Orlando. Howard scored 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, blocked four shots and grabbed 21 rebounds, the fourth time this season he's had 20 or more rebounds.

"I think I am getting a little bit better," said Howard, who was 0 for 5 from the free-throw line. "I'm just going to keep working on my conditioning, get my timing back and just keep going hard."

The Lakers, who have won eight of 10 since the All-Star break, led by four points at halftime. But point guard Steve Nash keyed a 21-7 third-quarter spurt that put the Lakers up by as many as 18 points. Nash scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter.

"We have to try to climb higher," Nash said. "This team is far from a finished product, so we have to improve every night. Get tighter on both ends of the floor. The more we play together the better we should be and the more we should learn how to play together."

• Heat 105, Pacers 91: In Miami, Mario Chalmers scored 26 points, Chris Bosh added 24 and Miami won its 18th straight game.

The 18-game streak ties the seventh longest in NBA history, and is the league's best since the Boston Celtics won 19 straight during the 2008-09 season. Miami will try for No. 19 when it hosts Atlanta on Tuesday night.

Dwyane Wade scored 23 points for the Heat, which controlled the game despite a season-low 13 points from LeBron James.

• Thunder 91, Celtics 79: In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant had 23 points and 11 rebounds, Russell Westbrook scored 15 points and the Thunder stretched its winning streak to five games.

The Thunder limited Boston to 25 percent shooting in the second half after the Celtics shot 51 percent in the first. Oklahoma City used an 11-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter to close it out.

• Raptors 100, Cavaliers 96: In Toronto, Amir Johnson scored 17 points and matched his career high with 16 rebounds, and Alan Anderson scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

• Magic 99, 76ers 91: In Orlando, Fla., Jameer Nelson had 24 points and 10 assists, and Nik Vucevic added 14 points and 17 rebounds. The win ended the Magic's seven-game home losing streak, its longest skid in Orlando since 2003-04.

• Clippers 129, Pistons 97: In Los Angeles, Blake Griffin led seven players in double figures with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and the Clippers picked up their 10th win in 13 games.

The Clippers set season highs for points scored and shooting percentage (62) while leading the entire game.

• Hornets 98, Trail Blazers 96: In New Orleans, Ryan Anderson capped a 20-point performance with a layup as he was fouled with 1.8 seconds left, and the Hornets snapped a three-game skid.

• Mavericks 100, Timberwolves 77: In Minneapolis, Vince Carter had 22 points and nine rebounds and Dirk Nowitzki scored 16 points for Dallas.

• Bucks 115, Kings 113: In Sacramento, Calif., Monta Ellis had 29 points and nine assists as Milwaukee held off the Kings.