THE FACTS: It's too soon to consider the latest success by the Lakers a rebirth. After all, they've shown they can slip back into their old habits quicker than Dwight Howard can get off the floor for a dunk. But the reclamation project is looking more rejuvenated after a 104-88 victory Tuesday night against the visiting Bucks. Howard had his second consecutive dominant performance since returning from a shoulder injury, and Kobe Bryant provided a lift on both ends of the floor, leading the Lakers to their second consecutive victory and pulling them within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot.
THE STAT: Howard finished with 31 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots on the heels of his 22-point, 14-rebound effort Sunday against the visiting Cavaliers. Bryant also finished with 31 points, extending his streak of games with at least 20 points to 22. The only other player age 34 or over to put together such a streak was Karl Malone (29). Bryant also took on the task of guarding Milwaukee's second-leading scorer, point guard Brandon Jennings, holding him to 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
QUOTABLE II: "Kobe changed the complexion of the game with his pressure in the backcourt. They knocked us off balance early."
-- Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan
TURNING POINT: The Lakers surged to a 12-point lead in the first seven minutes, gave it all back by the end of the opening quarter, then traded leads early in the second. They eased ahead for good late in the first half on a short jumper by Steve Nash, but couldn't get separation until Bryant sank 20-footer to end the third quarter and give L.A. a 79-73 lead. Metta World Peace then hit a jumper to open the fourth and Chris Duhon followed with a 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead, 84-73. The Bucks stopped there, never getting closer than nine the rest of the way.
HOT: Howard finished 14-for-18 from the floor, putting him at 23-for-29 since returning from a three-game absence because of the shoulder injury. After shooting 12-for-19 against the Bucks, Bryant is 21-for-33 in the last two games. No other player shot better than 50 percent for the Lakers.
QUOTABLE: "This could be an average night for him when he gets fitter and more comfortable with the system."
-- Steve Nash on Howard
NOT: The Bucks nearly eclipsed their season-low shooting percentage of 35.3. They were 34-for-95 against the Lakers for a 35.8 conversion rate. Their starters combined to shoot 19-for-56 (33.9). If that wasn't bad enough, Milwaukee was also 13-for-22 from the free-throw line (59.1), which was also a tick above their season-low mark of 58.3. Monta Ellis was bad from everywhere, shooting 6-for-16 from the field and 3-for-9 from the free-throw line. The Lakers lone black mark came in the rebounding department. The Bucks collected 21 offensive rebounds, leading to 24 second-chance points.
QUOTABLE III: "We missed a lot of shots, but mainly because of their pressure. They played a really good game, a really good defensive game."
-- Jim Boylan
GOOD MOVE: Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni made a gutsy decision to start the game with Bryant defending Jennings, Earl Clark guarding Ellis and Nash on Luc Mbah a Moute. The struggles of Jennings and Clark have already been documented, but even Nash held his own against Mbah a Moute, despite giving away five inches. Mbah a Moute finished with 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting and only grabbed five rebounds in 26 minutes. Mbah a Moute tried posting up Nash several times early on. The one time he established good position down low, Howard stepped in and swatted his jump hook.
BAD MOVE: The Bucks had a good weapon to counter Howard in third-year center Larry Sanders, who leads the league with 15 games of four blocks or more. But he picked up two fouls in the first 4 ½ minutes and didn't return until 7:41 remained in the second. He picked up his third foul with 1:44 left in the half then missed an uncontested dunk in the opening minute of the third quarter, which would have cut the deficit to five. Sanders eventually finished with six points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
NOTABLE: This was the second time this season Howard and Bryant scored more than 30 points each. ... Ellis had never missed more than five free throws in a game during his eight-year NBA career. ... D'Antoni won the 400th game of his NBA coaching career. ... Lakers starting forward Pau Gasol missed his fifth consecutive game with concussion symptoms.
UP NEXT: For the Lakers, Thursday vs. Miami, Sunday @ Toronto, Monday @ Chicago. For the Bucks, Thursday @ Phoenix, Saturday @ Portland, Tuesday vs. Philadelphia.