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.