The Los Angeles Lakers are getting used to playing without Kobe Bryant.
Not that they want to make it a long-term habit, of course, but at least in short spurts, they've shown they can hold down the fort without the superstar guard.
It helps, of course, to be playing some of the NBA weaklings, as was the case Sunday when the Sacramento Kings visited Staples Center.
The Lakers, riding a reinvigorated and healthier Dwight Howard, kept the Kings at arm's length throughout in a 113-102 victory
Bryant, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, started the Lakers' victory against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, but he didn't make it through the first quarter. He left without scoring a point. On Sunday, Bryant didn't even make it to pregame warm-ups before declaring himself unable to play due to the ankle and the flu.
He is doubtful for Monday's road game against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers announced.
With Bryant absent and Pau Gasol (foot) not yet ready to return, the Lakers appeared to be vulnerable against the Kings, who were without DeMarcus Cousins (thigh).
But with Howard looking as spry and actively as he has all year -- and it's been a steady upward swing for him of late -- and Antawn Jamison providing a spark off the bench, the Lakers were able to control the Kings for most of the night.
The key is better health for Howard.
"I'm getting a lot better. I think we're all getting a lot better," Howard said. "Hopefully by playoff time we'll all be better and in shape. And then we'll see what happens."
Sacramento provided a bit of a scare, though, as a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter pulled the Kings within two. The Lakers got things squared away at that point, running off 11 straight points to recapture control.
"I think they hit about three (3-pointers) in a row, or something like that," Kings guard Isaiah Thomas said. "And after that it was just hard to dig back into the game."
Howard scored just 12 points, but he grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked five shots. The Lakers (36-32) moved to four games over .500 for the first time this season and drew within a half-game of the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff standings. Los Angeles is 11-3 since the All-Star break.
"Even though (Howard) wasn't having a good offensive game he still messed with a lot of people's shots," said Kings guard Tyreke Evans.
Jamison, meanwhile, provided 27 points and nine rebounds.
"We played with a sense of urgency," Jamison said. "Kobe's been out, and everyone knew they had to step up. As a group, everyone's been doing that lately.
"We have to come out with a sense of urgency and play consistent for 48 minutes. If we do that, we should be fine."
Metta World-Peace added 22 points for the Lakers. Steve Nash had 19 points and 12 assists, and Steve Blake chipped in with 16 points off the bench.
"Both of the Steve's got going an Antawn was unbelievable," Howard said. "He's been playing great."
Thomas had 26 points and Patrick Patterson added 22 for the Kings.
"It was tough, they executed their offense and we didn't execute our defense," Thomas said. "They hit a few threes and that opened the game back up."
With the Lakers as thin as they are, coach Mike D'Antoni has reigned in the rotation to just seven players, with Blake and Jamison the only reserves to get court time.
Nevertheless, Jamison and Blake combined to score 43 points in a herculean effort in relief.
"Everybody has to continue to contribute," Blake said. "Dwight's been such a factor down low and guys are sharing the ball. But it starts on defense, we just want to push it to Dwight and make it tough for them inside."
NOTES: Although Bryant was listed as a game-time decision, it never really reached that point. He hoped to test the ankle during pregame warm-ups but ultimately opted against it, pulling himself from the game more than an hour before tip-off. ... Despite recent speculation Jordan Hill might come back this season from a hip injury, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni seemed skeptical. D'Antoni said it would be a "miracle" if Hill returned. ... Gasol, on the mend after suffering a plantar fascia injury in early February, did not seemed concerned he was experiencing soreness Saturday after increasing the intensity of his workouts, saying it was only natural with the added workload. Gasol could return this week, but did not set a date as of Sunday. ... Cousins is still recovering from a collision with Mike Dunleavy Jr. during the Kings' March 10 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.