It took them long enough, but the Lakers finally made it to eighth place in the Western Conference.
"Yippee," Kobe Bryant said.
And they're two games over .500 for the first time this season.
"We have to try to climb higher," Steve Nash said.
No, the Lakers weren't giddy with delight after beating the Chicago Bulls, 90-81, Sunday at Staples Center, a game that was part mud run and part rock fight.
The Lakers (33-31) were so low for so long that they'd take a victory any way they could, regardless of how pedestrian and uneventful (read: boring) their game looked against the punchless Bulls.
The Lakers' $100-million payroll is paying off in March, which isn't the same as June, but maybe it's a start. They slipped ahead of Utah and moved to within one game of seventh-place Houston.
Kobe Bryant cooled down a bit and finished with 19 points and nine assists, though two of the latter were the latest gauge of his newfound vision for Dwight Howard.
Bryant found him for an alley-oop layup and an 80-69 lead with 5 minutes 17 seconds left. Then he set up Howard for a dunk with 3:49 left, pumping his first for added emphasis.
Howard had 16 points and 21 rebounds. He hasn't had this many shots (45) over three games the entire season.
He's starting to feel more accepted, no? By the Lakers, by the indefatigably hard-working Bryant, by everybody?
He paused for several seconds. Then he chuckled.
"Well, I mean things are getting better. You know, we're winning. People are happier," he said.
He clearly understood that Lakers fans had been down on him.
"Oh, yeah, I would see it. I would hear it," he said. "It's getting better, but I can't focus on the outside. What matters is this locker room and what we're trying to accomplish. These guys know what I'm trying to do to help this team and they know that it's a process."
It wouldn't be a Lakers game without any drama, so Bryant and Metta World Peace provided it in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Bryant wasn't happy that World Peace was called for an offensive foul while setting a screen for him. World Peace jawed back at Bryant, unhappy at A) the call, B) Bryant's barking at him, and C) his own 0-for-5 three-point shooting at the time.
World Peace never did straighten out beyond the arc, missing all six of his attempts, but he was much better on defense, holding Carlos Boozer to 12 points on four-for-16 shooting.
"That's what he does. He's got the ability to guard multiple people," Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's got great hands. You've got to protect the ball against him."
Nate Robinson had 19 points for the Bulls (35-28), who just didn't have enough pop on offense without injured players Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and, of course, Derrick Rose.
Bryant's numbers were respectable, though his two-game streak of 40-plus points and 10-plus assists came to a quiet end.
Unless, of course, you count his undressing of Luol Deng with a crossover move for a layup with 1:39 to play.
The Lakers tried something new, getting ahead and staying there instead of coming back from deficits of 25 points (New Orleans) and 15 points (Toronto).
"What a nice change," said Nash, who pushed the Lakers away from a sluggish start by scoring 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter.
The Lakers also didn't give up an obnoxious number of points in the first half, unlike their previous three games, holding a 44-40 halftime edge Sunday.
"We are playing a lot better and we're playing the way we're supposed to," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now do we have a long way to go? Yes, we do. We have not beat Oklahoma City yet, for example, or the Clippers."
Actually, the Lakers beat the Thunder here in January, but D'Antoni's point was understood. The Lakers are 2-13 against the top five teams in the West.
Later, before disappearing out the locker-room door, Bryant yielded a little bit on the eighth-place question, acknowledging the Lakers' "roller-coaster year."
"You have to start somewhere. We're here now," he said. "Now we just have to continue to work at it."