It's come to this: One of the best point guards ever is now the Lakers' shooting guard and one of the best shooting guards ever is now their point guard.

Somehow it's working. Perfectly.

Kobe Bryant continued to ignore his score-first instinct, coming whisper-close to a triple-double for the second straight game as the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-96, in front of a Staples Center crowd that was relieved, exuberant and drained at the same time Sunday.

Steve Nash was part of it too, putting together 17 points and five assists as the team's No. 2 ballhandler, strange as it was to say it like that.

In the latest proof that wins equal happiness, Dwight Howard and Bryant embraced near midcourt in the final seconds. A victory never seemed so important for a team that "improved" to 19-25. The Thunder came in with the NBA's best record (34-10).

"It feels good to finally beat a team that's worth a . . ." Bryant said later.

Where to begin? With Bryant, as usual.

He had 14 assists in a second consecutive game, continuing his approach that began two days earlier in a breezy victory over Utah. He also had 21 points, nine rebounds and only three turnovers, none in the second half.

"Frankly, Kobe reminds me a little bit of Magic Johnson the way he's playing right now," Nash said. "He's controlling the game."

Bryant had this many assists over two games only one other time: December 2002, when he posted back-to-back 14s against Utah and Golden State.

The context here couldn't be greater. Bryant is stealing the role from the player who won two league most-valuable-player awards under Coach Mike D'Antoni's system in Phoenix.

And the gamble couldn't be bigger. The Lakers, desperate for momentum, are still four games out of a playoff spot despite the victory.

Numerous Lakers players have complained about not getting enough touches, minutes, whatever, this season. Nash won't whine about not getting enough assists.