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Mystery Is Solved by Butler

Somehow, Lakers pull out a 93-90 victory over Timberwolves on a late drive. Bryant is down to one crutch as L.A. wins again without him.

January 20, 2005|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Their small forward played out of position, their power forward had words with the head coach, and their best player watched it all unfold from the locker room.

Then, funny thing, the Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 93-90, answering a less-than-enthralling first half with a solid finish in front of 18,417 Wednesday at Staples Center.

Caron Butler, who started for the first time ever at shooting guard, made the go-ahead layup with 35 seconds left, and the Lakers improved to 2-1 without Kobe Bryant, 3-1 if the Cleveland game, where he was injured halfway through the first quarter, is to be counted as well.

"I don't think about those kind of things, but I tell you what, I'm real happy," Laker Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.

Lamar Odom had only 11 points on a foul-plagued night, but Chucky Atkins had a season-high 11 assists and 25 points, 10 in the fourth quarter.

Hours before the ending, Bryant and his 2-year-old daughter sat on two of the chairs that make up the Laker bench and watched as a handful of players shot around. Bryant, using one crutch instead of two, was wearing a splint on his right foot. He can put light pressure on the foot, but not too much before he is reminded of the severity of his sprained ankle.

"I'm getting there, man, I'm getting there," Bryant said before disappearing into the trainers' room. "Slowly but surely, I'm getting there."

Surely the Lakers could have used Bryant against the Timberwolves, whom he hit up for 31 points in a 105-96 victory two weeks ago.

But Butler's driving layup against Wally Szczerbiak put the Lakers ahead for good, 91-90.

"As long as we can come away with a 'W,' it sure feels good," said Butler, who had 16 points.

Kevin Garnett's turnaround from the baseline rattled out with 11 seconds left, and Jumaine Jones made both free throws after securing the rebound to establish a three-point edge. Latrell Sprewell missed a long three-pointer with three seconds left and, after Odom batted the rebound to the top of the arc, Troy Hudson missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.

"It is a big win," Bryant said afterward, smiling. "It is wins like this that bring us closer together."

Early on, there wasn't an overabundance of camaraderie, as the Lakers stumbled to a 49-46 halftime deficit.

More telling, Odom picked up his second foul with 4.6 seconds left in the first quarter and exchanged words with Tomjanovich as he headed to the bench.

"We had a miscommunication on taking a foul," Tomjanovich said. "He was in a situation where I didn't want him taking the foul. We just cleared that up. It could have been costly."

Odom picked up his fourth foul 13 seconds into the third quarter and did not reenter until the start of the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, he and Garnett engaged in a one-on-one battle, each scoring six points in the final five minutes.

"Every game against him since my rookie year has been competitive," Odom said. "I love playing against him."

Garnett and his teammates had trouble simply getting to Staples Center. They planned to arrive Tuesday night, but their charter jet had mechanical problems, seemingly a common theme throughout the Western Conference these days.

After an eight-hour wait at the airport in Minneapolis, the players were told to go home. They tried again Wednesday morning on the same jet but ultimately had to charter a small plane with no first-class seats, arriving in Los Angeles about 1 p.m.

The Timberwolves, finalists in the West last season, have lost nine of their last 12.

"I can definitely say we are not having as much fun as we would like," said Garnett, who had 27 points.

The Lakers made six of 10 three-point shots, the fewest attempts from behind the arc they have had this season, well below their average of 22.9 coming into the game.

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Opportunity Knocks

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In the next six games, the Lakers have only one opponent with a record above .500. Two of the teams are in last place:

*--* Opp. Rec. Last meeting Golden St. 12-27 Odom 27 pts; Laker win Seattle 27-10 108-93 Laker loss Clippers 18-20 Bryant 39 pts; Laker win New Jersey 13-24 First meeting Charlotte 8-27 First meeting Portland 15-23 First meeting

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