The Lakers played with fire and survived.

But there are a few burns.

As Dwight Howard missed his second consecutive game because of his sore right shoulder, the Lakers walked away with a 98-97 victory Sunday over the Detroit Pistons after nearly blowing an 18-point lead.

They only escaped because Kyle Singler's inbounds pass to Andre Drummond inside on the final possession resulted in his shot hitting off the rim. It also helped that Pau Gasol put a body on him.

"I tried to get in the way of the pass so he couldn't convert," said Gasol after posting 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting in his second consecutive start at center. "I wanted to make it difficult on him because it was a very good pass."

The Lakers (22-26) secured their fourth win in the last past five games and a 2-1 record on the team's Grammy trip thus far.

Big deal.

"I'm not happy about this one," Bryant said.

The Lakers have blown double-digit leads in the past four games against sub. 500 teams. Last week, the Phoenix Suns took advantage of that.

"It feels good just to win, but at the same time, our message in the locker room is pretty clear," said Bryant, who posted 18 points on 8-of-20 shooting and five assists. "We have a stretch of games coming up where we have to play better than this."

Good luck.