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LAKERS 110, MINNESOTA 90

Lakers are first team to 50 wins

They have few problems against the Timberwolves, as Bryant is able to sit out the fourth quarter again.

March 07, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

Lesson learned.

The Lakers played another undermanned team, but they weren't exactly warm and friendly, racking up a 110-90 victory Friday over the hobbling Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

Unlike their sobering experience Sunday against the seriously depleted Phoenix Suns, the Lakers (50-12) delivered against the Timberwolves.

They became the league's first 50-victory team this season and, of greater importance, lead Cleveland (48-13) and Boston (49-14) by 1 1/2 games for the NBA's best record.

Kobe Bryant had 23 points, Pau Gasol had 21, and all five starters sat out the fourth quarter, the better to rest for an upcoming three-game trip that starts Monday in Portland and finishes with back-to-back games in Houston and San Antonio.

"We're pleased we got through the game, had guys get some rest, and now we're on to a real busy week next week," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

How quickly did Jackson go to his bench? DJ Mbenga played in the first quarter and Adam Morrison played in the second quarter.

The Timberwolves (18-43) were already without leading scorer Al Jefferson (knee surgery) and second-leading scorer Randy Foye (thigh bruise), which seemed to suck the drama out of the building in the first half despite the Lakers holding a 47-36 lead.

But consecutive three-point baskets by Bryant gave the Lakers a 71-52 lead and excited the crowd with 2:59 left in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter again belonged to Mbenga.

The reserve center scored on a mid-range jumper and a dunk, and earned a standing ovation when he blocked two consecutive shots by Minnesota forward Rodney Carney, the second of which was smacked with enough force to send the ball bouncing to the other side of the court.

Mbenga also had consecutive blocked shots against Timberwolves forward Shelden Williams.

The crowd even chanted "M-V-P" for him as he shot free throws in the fourth quarter. He finished with a career-high 10 points and tied a career-high with five blocked shots.

"DJ's energy can really lift us if he can get things going his way, which he did," Jackson said.

Said Mbenga: "You can contribute no matter if it's one minute or 10 minutes. You've just got to show your teammates you're there."

Minnesota, which has lost eight consecutive games, earned a closer-than-expected 111-108 loss to the Lakers almost two weeks ago in Minneapolis. After that game, Jackson criticized the Lakers' defense by calling it "pathetic."

On Friday, the Lakers held the Timberwolves to 33% shooting.

Former UCLA star Kevin Love had 18 points and 14 rebounds, but he was also indicative of Minnesota's shooting woes, making only five of 17 shots as the Timberwolves were swept by the Lakers in the season series for a second consecutive season.

"They're missing a couple of their really good players," Jackson said. "Without Foye, I think it's misleading to say our defense is that good."

Meanwhile, Bryant continued to move up the NBA career scoring list, passing former Boston center Robert Parish for 18th all-time on a layup with 5:32 left in the second quarter. Bryant now has 23,354 points. Charles Barkley is 17th with 23,757 points.

The Lakers won the ceremonial race to 50 victories, one of many goals they lined up before the season, Jackson said.

Then he divulged another one.

"We have 20 games left," he said. "We'd like to be the first to 60 [victories], basically."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

No. 24 is No. 18

NBA's career scoring leaders (*-active):

*--* Rk Player PTS 1. K. Abdul-Jabbar 38,387 2. Karl Malone 36,928 3. Michael Jordan 32,292 4. Wilt Chamberlain 31,419 5. Moses Malone 27,409 6. Elvin Hayes 27,313 7. Shaquille O'Neal* 27,287 8. Hakeem Olajuwon 26,946 9. Oscar Robertson 26,710 10. Dominique Wilkins 26,668 11. John Havlicek 26,395 12. Alex English 25,613 13. Reggie Miller 25,279 14. Jerry West 25,192 15. Patrick Ewing 24,815 16. Allen Iverson* 23,960 17. Charles Barkley 23,757 18. Kobe Bryant* 23,354 19. Robert Parish 23,334 20. Adrian Dantley 23,177 21. Elgin Baylor 23,149 22. Clyde Drexler 22,195 23. Gary Payton 21,813 24. Larry Bird 21,791 25. Hal Greer 21,586 *--*

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