The Lakers are starting to find their groove

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The Lakers are starting to find their groove

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are winning again. It's just a two-game streak, but it's still a turnaround from their abysmal play of late.Bryant scored 34 points, Metta World Peace added 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds and the Lakers won consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month with a 111-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.Dwight Howard had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who led 60-50 at halftime. Darius Morris had a career-high 15 points, all in the first half, and Chris Duhon scored 14. It was World Peace's first double-double since Jan. 13, 2010, at Dallas.The Lakers (11-14), who beat Washington 102-96 on Friday night, won two in a row for the first time since a three-game streak from Nov. 16-20."It's guys playing with confidence and guys trusting each other," said Bryant, who was 12 for 21 from the field and 8 for 9 from the free-throw line. "We played well, communicated well, kept attacking and good things happened. I know the questions have been coming because we hadn't been winning, but our time will come."Even without injured stars Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers hardly resembled the team which entered the night four games below .500. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games."We did a great job of attacking early and then we stayed with it," he said. "Our bench did a great job and stepped up and our whole team stepped up and just played with confidence."Nick Young paced the reeling Sixers (12-12) with 30 points while Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner added 16 apiece. Thaddeus Young had 14 for Philadelphia, which dropped its third straight game for the first time this season."We just have to keep working, keep going to practice and go back to the drawing board," Thaddeus Young said.Like the Lakers, the Sixers also have been playing short-handed. Point guard Jrue Holiday, who averages a team-best 18.4 points, missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left foot.Los Angeles led 87-73 after three, but the Sixers closed to 91-82 with 8:27 remaining.The Lakers responded with a 9-3 surge to go back up by 15 at 100-85 with 5:15 left. Suddenly, all those boos careening down from the rafters toward Bryant and his teammates turned into fans heading up the aisles to leave the building."They knocked down a lot of 3s and they kind of spread the floor," Nick Young said. "You have to give them credit."Los Angeles was 14 for 34 from 3-point range. Duhon was 4 for 10 from beyond the arc, and World Peace and Morris each made three 3s."Guys are playing well, we had open looks and guys were able to knock them down," Duhon said. "I think you have to take what the defense gives you."The Lakers' 10 3s in the first half broke the record for most in a half at the Wells Fargo Center, which opened in 1996.NOTES:Jordan Hill, a forward-center with Los Angeles, was a late scratch with back spasms. ... Sixers C Kwame Brown started for the eighth time. He also has seven DNP-Coach's Decision this season. Brown received a technical foul with 10:39 left in the third quarter. . Including this game, the Sixers are playing 10 of the next 12 against teams from the Western Conference. . Eagles running back LeSean McCoy attended the game. ... The Lakers went 19 for 24 at the line, compared to 6 for 11 for the 76ers.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."