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New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith (8) shoots as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) defends during the second half Tuesday in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 100-94. Associated Press.

NBA: Struggling Lakers finding themselves

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pieces of the puzzle that have been the Lakers’ confounding season so far are starting to fall into place.

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Kobe Bryant engineered a second-half comeback, the defense stepped up, and Los Angeles beat the New York Knicks 100-94 on Tuesday, extending its winning streak to five games.

“We’re .500,” a smiling Dwight Howard said. “We did it on Christmas, too. I knew this day would come.”

Bryant scored 34 points in his NBA-record 15th Christmas Day game and Metta World Peace added 20 points and seven rebounds while defending Carmelo Anthony, whose 34 points led the Knicks. Anthony said he hyperextended his left knee, but expects to play on Wednesday in Phoenix.

Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, has topped 30 or more points in nine straight games.

“If you’re going to play on Christmas, it’s always better to win. Makes it all worthwhile,” said Bryant.

The Lakers improved to 14-14 — 9-9 under new coach Mike D’Antoni — and upped their holiday record to 21-18, including 13-9 at home. They returned to .500 for the first time since they were 8-8 on Nov. 30.

Rondo keeps cool, leads Celtics over Nets

NEW YORK (AP) — Rajon Rondo lost his cool in the second quarter when Boston last met Brooklyn.

This time, the second period featured some of the best basketball the Celtics have played this season.

Rondo scored 19 points in his first full game against the Nets this season, and the Celtics won 93-76 on Tuesday in another game with some heated moments between the division rivals.

Rondo, sidelined in the first meeting and thrown out of the second after shoving Nets forward Kris Humphries into the courtside seats, outplayed counterpart Deron Williams and helped the Celtics take control early.

“We moved the ball; we rebounded the ball,” Rondo said. “They beat us pretty bad on the glass, so tonight we did an exceptional job on the glass, taking care of the defensive rebounds, and we got stops.”

In the Nets’ Nov. 28 victory in Boston, Rondo, Humphries and Wallace were ejected.

It was the second quarter of that game where things got away from the Celtics, and Rondo’s frustrations soon followed when he shoved Humphries after the Nets forward fouled Garnett.

Rockets surge past Bulls

CHICAGO (AP) — James Harden scored 26 points and Jeremy Lin added 20 points and 11 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 120-97 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.

Omer Asik returned to the United Center and had a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds in his first trip back to Chicago since signing with the Rockets in the offseason.

The Rockets starters all scored in double figures. Chandler Parsons added 23 points and Marcus Morris had 10.

Houston has won six of seven.

The Rockets had been just 3-7 on the road entering Tuesday, but a strong second quarter turned the holiday matchup into a blowout. The Rockets outscored the Bulls 31-19 in the period to break the game open.

Lin capped a 14-2 run midway through the quarter with a drive and a layup to make it 55-34. He scored 12 in the second quarter and Harden had 13.

Houston led 58-41 at halftime.

Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points, and Marco Belinelli scored 15.

Houston entered the game tops in the league in scoring at 105.4 points per game, while Chicago allowed the third-fewest in the league at 91.

Houston, though, was not slowed at all.

The Rockets pushed the pace and shot well against Chicago’s defense. The Rockets outscored the Bulls 66-32 in the paint and 31-8 in transition. Their largest lead was 35 points.

The 120 points allowed and 23-point loss were season-worsts for the Bulls.

The Turkish-born Asik spent his first two years in the NBA with Chicago. He signed a three-year, $25 million offer sheet with the Rockets this summer that the Bulls did not match. He entered the game averaging 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds, and put together perhaps his best game of the season.

Asik received a round of applause when he was introduced at the beginning of the game, but the hospitality didn’t last. He quickly heard jeers when he stepped to the free throw line early in the first quarter.

Harden, fourth in the league in scoring, followed up two strong performances — 37 points against Detroit and 45 against Atlanta — with another strong game. He was 7 for 13 from the field and 11 for 13 from the free throw line.

Houston improved to 11-2 against the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls had won nine of 13 to climb into first place in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division, but were flat for the second consecutive game. Chicago lost 92-75 Saturday in Atlanta.

Boos came down from the United Center crowd when Asik scored to make it 82-51 in the third quarter.

Chicago cut the Houston lead to 100-85 with just under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but a 6-0 Rockets’ run ended the rally.

NOTE: Both teams have quick turnarounds for Wednesday games. The Bulls travel to Indianapolis to play the Pacers and the Rockets visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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