So it's come to this.

Once considered championship contenders only two years ago, the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are now two teams just hoping to sneak into the playoffs.

No matter how ugly it looked or how many baskets they exchanged, both parties these days only care about the bottom result.

The Lakers' 103-99 victory Sunday over the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center extended the team's winning streak to three games. The Lakers (28-29) remained 22 games back of the Houston Rockets (31-27) for the final playoff spot while having a three-game cushion over Dallas.

That means the Lakers can worry about whether they're suited for afternoon games, Dwight Howard's conditioning and Metta World Peace's horrific shooting at a later time.

It at least put Howard in a good enough mood to return to his jovial self in explaining how the Lakers look different since the All-Star break.

"We got haircuts now," Howard said. "We shaved our mustaches. It's a totally different look."

The Lakers' different look has more important qualities.

After playing the facilitating role, Kobe Bryant rediscovered his scoring touch for the second consecutive game. He posted a team-high 38 points on a 13-of-21 clip and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Bryant made all five of his fourth-quarter attempts. And he did so with the scowl and competitive fire that has become awfully familiar to Lakers fans.

"It's what I'm supposed to do," he said. "It's about that time. I'm going through a process of facilitating and things like that.
"It's time to put that together."