Lakers ready for another bout with Houston

The Los Angeles Lakers took a big step toward anther Pacific Division title in their last outing and will now aim to keep moving in the right direction when they square off with the playoff-hopeful Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and hit the go-ahead shot with nearly three minutes left on Wednesday, as the Lakers claimed another installment of their Los Angeles rivalry with a 113-108 triumph over the Clippers.

Andrew Bynum returned from a one-game absence and dominated with 36 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, as the Lakers won their fourth straight contest and moved two games ahead of the Clippers for first place in the Pacific.

Perhaps more importantly the Lakers captured the season series and playoff tiebreaker over the Clips.

Bynum, who missed Tuesday's four-point win over the Nets due to a sprained left ankle, went 10-of-12 from the foul line.

"It feels good to win," Bynum said. "My ankle is a little sore, but as the game went on it didn't hurt as much. It was a fight for a playoff spot."

The Rockets, meanwhile, are currently the No. 7 seed in the West but are just a game ahead of No. 9 Phoenix.

Most recently, Goran Dragic, who continues to start in place of Kyle Lowry, scored 21 points as Houston handed the Chicago Bulls their first consecutive losses of the season with a 99-93 win at United Center on Monday.

Luis Scola added 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Rockets, who have alternated wins and losses over their last seven games. Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger both contributed 13 points for Houston while Marcus Camby had 12 points and 11 boards in the victory.

"The best thing is that we control our destiny so we just have to keep taking one game at a time and keep competing like we did tonight," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said about his team.

Lowry, who has missed the last 14 games with a bacterial infection was able to take part in some individual drills during Houston's practice on Thursday but no timetable has been set for his return.

The Lakers have won 10 of their last 13 against the Rockets but Houston took the most recent encounter, a 107-104 win in Space City on March 20.