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LAKERS 111, MINNESOTA 108

Lakers fool around but don't fall in 111-108 win

Their uninspired defense allows undermanned Timberwolves to shoot 50%, but Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combine for 78 points in unexpectedly close win.

February 23, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

MINNEAPOLIS — In the chill of the Midwest, 1,500 miles from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood's finest night, the Lakers were fighting through a series of struggles.

"We were going for 'Best Drama,' " Kobe Bryant said.

They might have been considered for the category, but this was against only the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves, who gave the Lakers all they could handle before falling, 111-108, Sunday night at the Target Center.

It was neither poetic nor lyrical, and the Lakers escaped against a team that hadn't won a home game in almost a month . . . and played without its best player . . . and had a last-second three-point attempt that could have sent the game to overtime.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson certainly didn't like what he witnessed, the Lakers spinning their arms like turnstiles whenever the Timberwolves drove to the basket, representing the No. 1 reason Minnesota (18-37) shot 50% and never trailed by more than six points.

"Our pathetic defense," Jackson said with disdain. "I thought we just played sloppy defense and didn't put our minds to it."

On the other hand, the Lakers are an NBA-best 46-10, a league-best 20-6 on the road and 10-1 since Andrew Bynum went down, including the victory in Memphis when Bynum's knee buckled under the weight of an off-balance Bryant. Sunday's win was their 11th in the last 12 games.

With every game logged by the duo of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Bynum's injury seems further in the distance.

They took turns attacking the undersized Timberwolves' defense, shooting a combined 70.1% on 19-for-27 accuracy. They each scored 25 points, seemingly perfect complements to Bryant's 28 points.

And get this: Odom was angry that he took "only" 14 rebounds.

"I wish I could have [done] a better job on the boards early in the first half," he said. "I could have had another 20-rebound night."

As it was, Odom had an enormous rebound with 20.5 seconds left, tipping in Bryant's miss to give the Lakers a 108-105 edge.

Randy Foye's fadeaway three-pointer brought the Timberwolves to within 109-108 with 9.2 seconds left, but Bryant made two free throws and Foye couldn't hit a 31-foot three-point attempt as time expired.

"Right now, mentally, we're in a good place," Odom said. "We find a way."

Bryant found a way to move up another historical list, finishing Sunday night with 23,164 career points after passing Lakers legend Elgin Baylor (23,149) for 20th in NBA history. Bryant, 30, is only 13 points behind Adrian Dantley for 19th.

"The Lakers are one of those franchises where the greatest to ever wear those uniforms are some of the greatest of all time," Bryant said. "It's a tremendous honor to pass [Baylor]."

Jackson, always looking to gain the psychological edge, started in on the Timberwolves before the game even began, claiming they were using illegal nets to feed into the small, quick style of play they've had to adopt since center Al Jefferson was lost for the season because of a torn knee ligament.

"They're trying to score a lot of points. You'll notice their nets are 'fast' nets out there, which are not regulation nets," Jackson said. "They're all wide so the ball just goes through without any disruption of the flight of the ball. They want to get the ball and run."

It looked as if the net result of the game might not work out for the Lakers, who trailed, 80-78, going into the fourth quarter after backup center Craig Smith stole the ball from Bryant and scored on a layup.

The Lakers eventually fended off the Timberwolves despite allowing the undersized Smith to hit them up for 19 points on nine-for-10 shooting.

In fact, the Timberwolves had the league's second-lowest shooting percentage (44.1%) coming into Sunday but made 42 of 84 field-goal attempts against the Lakers.

The Lakers won, but Jackson grinned thinly when asked by a Minneapolis reporter if they had demonstrated an Oscar-worthy performance with their late-game burst.

"We'll leave it at that," Jackson said. "You've got the pun of the night."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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It just gets worse for the Clippers

Steve Blake ties an NBA record for assists in one quarter in Portland's 116-87 win over L.A. PAGE 9

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