The halfway point of the Lakers' season is still a week away but it's come to this: They need to win home games against teams like the Milwaukee Bucks if they want to make the playoffs.
So they did Tuesday night, breaking the Bucks, 104-88, behind another strong-armed effort from Dwight Howard.
Howard had 31 points and 16 rebounds as the purple-and-gold streamers dropped from the Staples Center ceiling for a 12th time this season, way too infrequently for a team with such high hopes many, many months ago.
The two reasons for their two-game winning streak after a six-game slide: Howard's offense and Kobe Bryant's defense.
Bryant had 31 points and six assists while continuing to play the near-your-nose defense lacking so often this season. He held Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings to 12 points and one assist, far below his averages of 18.5 points and 5.9 assists before Tuesday.
"For us right now, the best thing for me to do is to hawk the ball and try to take apart their sets," said Bryant, who held Kyrie Irving to 15 points in another easy Lakers victory Sunday over Cleveland. "I think it's important to try to push from the front a little bit and see my old . . . out there dogging it."
The Lakers (17-21) have been anything but beasts at home, 11-9 there before Tuesday.
Among the lowlights . . .
They lost to Orlando, which left Howard in a very dour mood, and also fell to Utah, a notoriously poor road team.
They barely beat Charlotte and had already lost three at home this month — an inexcusably soft loss to Philadelphia, another one to Denver and a bottoming-out blowout against Oklahoma City.
And who could forget that season opener against Dallas? The Mavericks had a nice little victory without Dirk Nowitzki and the Lakers had themselves the first inkling that something might not be right this season, in case their 0-8 exhibition season didn't already suggest it.
Maybe they can start throwing dirt on their home woes if they beat the Miami Heat here on Thursday.
The Lakers barely led the Bucks after three quarters, 79-73. Then Howard and Bryant worked the big man-smaller man thing to perfection.
Howard had eight points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter. Bryant added eight points, making three of four shots before leaving to a healthy ovation with 3:04 to play.
"Personally I think Dwight will continue to improve as he gets fitter and a better understanding of his teammates and plays with a little bit more energy," said Steve Nash, who had eight points and 11 assists. "He can still have out-of-this-world numbers."
Milwaukee (19-18) was 9-8 on the road before Tuesday, a surprisingly good record when considering Miami, the top team in the Eastern Conference, was 8-9 away from home.
The Lakers are making a stand at Staples Center. Finally.
"We definitely need to win at home, especially the ones we're supposed to win," Metta World Peace said. "We played together so we won tonight. I've been saying that all year."