Kobe Bryant went over and punched Dwight Howard in the chest.
It wasn't a bad thing.
Bryant was rewarding Howard for keeping alive a loose ball in the second quarter, part of an inspired all-around effort from the Lakers in a 102-84 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Yes, the previous sentence used "inspired" and "all-around effort" to describe a Lakers victory. It's been a while.
Bryant came close to a career-high for assists, Howard was alert and active down low, and Pau Gasol looked much more like a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion.
Gasol even got into a battle of words, not to mention a brief shoving match, with Utah's Paul Millsap late in the third quarter. Gasol then shouted at Randy Foye while walking to the Lakers bench after the Jazz guard said something to him in passing.
The Lakers, backed into a corner and lashing out? Maybe. Finally.
"We played for each other and that's the only way we're going to win," Howard said. "We talked and we were very active out there."
They still can't shake three months of poor basketball in a 2½-hour span. No chance. Especially with Oklahoma City coming to Staples Center on Sunday.
But the Lakers (18-25) showed something against a team ahead of them in the standings, a rare occurrence this season.
It started with Howard, who saw a shoulder specialist Thursday and lowered the boom on Utah a day later.
He almost had a double-double by halftime (eight points, 10 rebounds) and shook off whatever pain he felt from the torn labrum that ended his game two days earlier in the second quarter. He finished with 17 points on eight-for-12 shooting and took 13 rebounds.
Bryant was in classic facilitator mode Friday, finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. His career-high was 15 assists in 2002 against Washington.
At halftime Friday, he had as many assists as Utah (seven). On a telling third-quarter play, he gave up a short runner and passed out to Metta World Peace in the left corner. World Peace nailed a three-pointer, part of a 17-point outburst that included five-of-11 shooting from behind the arc.
The Lakers also played defense, holding Utah to 42% accuracy and big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to combined 10-for-25 shooting.
The Jazz (23-20) had been 4-0 against the Lakers, if you include a 2-0 record in exhibition play. At this point, why not?
"It's a relief," Bryant said. "Especially against a team that's handled us pretty well the last few times we've seen them with their physicality and their speed. It feels good to be able to bounce back this way."
It was a feel-good night all around. Fans roared when the "kiss cam" put Rick Fox on the scoreboard and he complied, kissing his girlfriend, actress Eliza Dushku. They also loved Gasol's shoving match with Millsap.
The Lakers were back, for once. A victory Sunday against the Thunder would be much more significant.