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December 26, 2012

Kobe leads rally

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

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, who would soon hop a flight to Denver, getting there ahead of the Nuggets, who played the Clippers in the other half of the holiday doubleheader at Staples Center.

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.

“It’s so early in the season to have turned a corner,” Bryant said. “We have everybody in the lineup and we’re starting to see how we want to play.”

The Knicks controlled most of the game behind Anthony and J.R. Smith, who had 24 points. But they struggled offensively in the fourth, when Anthony was limited to seven points and Smith had five as the Lakers’ defense clamped down. World Peace fouled out with 1:58 to play and the Lakers ahead by four.

World Peace credited his defense on Anthony to “old-school basketball.”

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