LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant asked to be traded last spring in part because he wanted to play for a team that could contend for an NBA title.
He just might have gotten his wish by staying put.
Bryant scored 26 of his 38 points in the second half, Andrew Bynum had a career-high 28 points to go with 12 rebounds and a season-high four assists, and the Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns 122-115 on Tuesday for their ninth win in 11 games.
"I'm focused on one thing and one thing only - winning the championship," Bryant said after the Lakers moved a season-high eight games over .500 at 18-10 and within one game of the Pacific Division-leading Suns.
Bryant, who complained about a lack of talent around him, has gotten plenty of help recently, especially from the 20-year-old Bynum, who shot 11-of-13 in outplaying Phoenix center Amare Stoudemire.
Bynum left to a roar of approval from the Staples Center crowd of 18,997 and a hand-slap from Bryant with 11.5 seconds to play.
"We're getting better. It's just about getting better each day," Bryant said. "It's good to have games like this. We have a solid foundation, we really do. When you play against Phoenix, you have to be solid."
While Odom didn't mince words, calling Bynum one of the NBA's best centers, others weren't so quick to make such a jump.
"At the end of the year, if he is the MVP, then we'll say what a great year he had," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, drawing laughs from reporters.
"The best thing about it is he's put in so much work over the summer and now," Bryant said. "The biggest thing for him is he's seeing results. The sky's the limit for him."
After matching his career high by playing 42 minutes, Bynum said he felt great.
"I feel like I could play another game right now," he said. "I put in all the hard work just for this. It's paying off. This definitely was one of my better games. Made a pretty big impact, teammates looking for me, wide open a lot of the times and they found me today.
"So far, perfect Christmas."
Jackson is reticent to draw any conclusions from his team's solid start this season -- understandable considering the Lakers won 26 of their first 39 games last season before losing 27 or their final 43.
"We are playing better as a team," Jackson said. "We just have to play every game and not think about anything else, just what's ahead of us."
Steve Nash led the Suns (19-10) with 24 points and 14 assists. Six of his teammates scored in double figures including Stoudemire, who had 19 points but only six rebounds; Shawn Marion, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds; Raja Bell, who also scored 15; and Grant Hill, who added 14.
"They've definitely gotten better," Bell said of the Lakers. "But any team that stays together like that, as far as core players go, normally gets better -- especially when their young fella (Bynum) is getting another year under his belt.
"He looks really good and he did a great job today."
When asked about the difference between these Lakers and last year's team, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni replied: "Bynum and Derek Fisher. They've got two better players than they had last time. So that's a big difference."
The game was the first between the teams since the Lakers stunned the Suns 119-98 in Phoenix on Nov. 2. Jackson angered D'Antoni when he called a timeout right after the Suns called one, with 4:55 to play and the outcome already decided.
Jackson said after that game that he was just getting a mandatory timeout out of the way.
"It's not a big deal," D'Antoni said before this game, citing his team's poor play as the main reason for his short fuse.
"That's the whole crux of it," D'Antoni said before adding: "I can live without being in his good graces. I'm sure he can live with not being in mine."
The Suns, who have lost five of eight, eliminated the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs the past two years.
Bryant, who became the youngest player ever to reach 20,000 points Sunday in New York, moved past Tom Chambers into 30th place on the career list with his 31st point of the game, which came on a corkscrew jumper that gave the Lakers a 102-95 lead.
Neither team led by more than seven points until Bryant made a jumper and two free throws, giving the Lakers a 110-100 lead with 4:21 remaining. The Suns didn't pose a serious threat after that.
Neither team led by more than five points during the third quarter, which ended with the Lakers on top 92-89. Bryant scored 15 points in the period, capping his effort by making a 3-pointer with 33.3 seconds to play and a reverse dunk with 3.4 seconds left.
"Just couldn't stop them," D'Antoni said. "Bynum killed us, (and) Kobe. They were good."
- The Lakers played on Christmas Day for the ninth straight year and the 34th time in franchise history dating to 1949. They're 19-15 overall after snapping a five-game losing streak in such games.
- The Suns played on Christmas Day for the 16th time, but just the first since losing to the Lakers 108-87 in 1996.
- All five starters for each team scored in double figures. The Lakers are 5-0 this season when their starters all score 10 or more points.
- The Suns have beaten the Lakers in 13 of the last 17 regular-season games between the teams.
- Lakers C Kwame Brown missed his 19th straight game because of injuries to his left ankle and knee, and teammate Luke Walton sat out his second in a row because of a sprained right ankle.
- Hill, hampered by injuries his entire career, started his 27th straight game to open the season. It's his longest streak to open a season since he started the first 39 games for the Detroit Pistons eight years ago.