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Howard, Bryant fuel Lakers in blowout over Bucks

(Reuters) - Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant formed a dominant inside-outside combination to maintain the Los Angeles Lakers' winning momentum with a 104-88 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

Howard ruled the inside with 31 points and 16 rebounds in his second game since missing three with a shoulder injury, while Bryant controlled the perimeter with 31 and six assists.

It was the Lakers' (17-21) second straight win after enduring a six-game losing streak.

"We're starting to get a better connection," Bryant told reporters of his relationship with Howard. "Now I can hit him and he's finishing. If I see a crack in the lane I'm going to try to get him the ball."

After taking a seven-point lead at halftime, the home Lakers ran away from the Bucks in the fourth quarter where they opened with a 21-7 run that provided a 100-80 lead.

Showing new-found teamwork, Los Angeles compiled 30 assists on the night while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

Monta Ellis led Milwaukee (19-18) with 17 points as the visitors fell to 3-2 under interim coach Jim Boylan. The team fired Scott Skiles last week after an uninspired start and a string of four successive defeats.

Against the Lakers, the Bucks had a tough night shooting and made just seven of 28 three-pointers as they were hounded by an improved Los Angeles defense.

Coach Mike D'Antoni has asked the veteran Bryant to take the lead defensively and guard the opposing team's top player, Brandon Jennings, who managed just 12 points on four of 14 shooting.

"For him to come out and take the challenge to defend the best offensive player, it speaks volumes," Lakers reserve Antawn Jamison said of Bryant. "He's our leader and we follow what he's doing on both ends."

Jamison finished with 10 points and eight rebounds while Steve Nash paced the team with 11 assists.

Los Angeles played a fifth straight game without Pau Gasol who is still recovering from a concussion.

The Lakers will now prepare for a showdown with the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday as they try to extend their winning ways.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles. Editing by Patrick Johnston and Amlan Chakraborty)

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