The pieces of the puzzle that have been the Lakers’ confounding season so far are starting to fall into place.
Kobe Bryant engineered a second-half comeback, the defense stepped up, and host Los Angeles beat the New York Knicks, 100-94, Tuesday, extending its winning streak to five games.
‘‘We’re .500,’’ a smiling Dwight Howard said. ‘‘We did it on Christmas, too. I knew this day would come.’’
Bryant scored 34 points in his NBA-record 15th Christmas Day game, and Metta World Peace added 20 points and 7 rebounds while defending Carmelo Anthony, whose 34 points led the Knicks. Anthony said he hyperextended his left knee, but he expects to play Wednesday in Phoenix.
Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, has topped 30 or more points in nine straight games.
‘‘If you’re going to play on Christmas, it’s always better to win. Makes it all worthwhile,’’ said Bryant, who would soon hop a flight to Denver, getting there ahead of the Nuggets, who played the Clippers in the other half of the holiday doubleheader at Staples Center.
The Lakers improved to 14-14 — 9-9 under new coach Mike D'Antoni — and improved their holiday record to 21-18, including 13-9 at home. They returned to .500 for the first time since they were 8-8 on Nov. 30.
‘‘It’s so early in the season to have turned a corner,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘We have everybody in the lineup and we’re starting to see how we want to play.’’
The Knicks controlled most of the game behind Anthony and J.R. Smith, who had 24 points. But they struggled offensively in the fourth, when Anthony was limited to 7 points and Smith had 5 as the Lakers’ defense clamped down. World Peace fouled out with 1:58 to play and the Lakers ahead by 4.
World Peace credited his defense on Anthony to ‘‘old-school basketball.’’
Said teammate Steve Nash, ‘‘This is what he’s been doing all year. He gets his hands on a lot of balls, pounds on the other team’s best guy. You can’t win without that type of effort.’’
Heat 103, Thunder 97 — LeBron James finished with 29 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 21, and host Miami survived a frantic finish to beat Oklahoma City in an NBA Finals rematch.
Mario Chalmers scored a season-high 20 for the Heat, who matched the franchise’s best 25-game start at 19-6. Chris Bosh added 16 for Miami, which has beaten the Thunder five straight times going back to last June’s Finals.
Kevin Durant scored 33 points and Russell Westbrook added 21 for Oklahoma City, but both Thunder stars missed potentially game-tying 3-point attempts in the final seconds as the defending Western Conference champions suffered their first losing streak of the season.
This wild rematch lived up to expectations.
There was a fast start by the reigning champions, a one-handed dunk by James on an offensive rebound that will be added to his copious highlight reel, a scrum after a hard foul that led to double technicals on Wade and Serge Ibaka (15 points) early in the fourth, an easy rally by the Thunder from an early double-digit deficit, and even a jawing match between Durant and James in the final minutes.
‘‘It was a great game. I can’t complain,’’ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ‘‘We could have done a better job of not turning the ball over in the first half.
“All in all, it was a great game to play and a great game to coach. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the win.’’
Clippers 112, Nuggets 100 — Jamal Crawford led a dominant performance by the reserves with 22 points and host Los Angeles defeated Denver to extend its franchise-record winning streak to 14 games.
Matt Barnes added 20 points — one off his season high — as the bench outscored the Clippers starters, 64-48, in claiming the NBA’s best record at 22-6.
Kosta Koufos and Jordan Hamilton scored 16 points each for Denver.
Ty Lawson added 15 points for the Nuggets, who fell to 7-13 on the road, where 22 of their first 32 games are being played.
Rockets 120, Bulls 97 — James Harden scored 26 points and Jeremy Lin added 20 points and 11 assists to lead visiting Houston over Chicago.
Omer Asik returned to the United Center and had a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds in his first trip back to Chicago since signing with the Rockets in the offseason.
The Rockets starters all scored in double figures.