The Lakers earned a playoff spot but lost Andrew Bynum to injury, the good and the bad for the home team in a strange, choppy game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There wasn't much charisma on display against one of the league's worst teams in a 104-96 victory, but the Lakers' main talking point wasn't clinching a postseason berth after Bynum left the game because of a strained left Achilles' tendon.
Bynum was running downcourt on defense, felt a brief pop and promptly checked out of the game before walking back to the locker room with 10:09 left in the third quarter. He stopped in the hallway because of the pain and slowly continued to the trainer's room.
He wore a plastic walking boot as he left Staples Center and said he would have an MRI exam Saturday.
"I was just running and felt a lot of pain in my calf and down from there," Bynum said as he walked with a limp. "It's calmed down a little bit now. It was just really sharp, really quick. One or two seconds of super sharp pain."
Bynum had been playing better in recent games and had 11 points and five rebounds in almost 20 minutes against Minnesota.
He has sustained relatively serious knee injuries each of the last two seasons, and the severity of his most recent injury wasn't clear Friday.
"He'll probably miss a little while," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers play Washington on Sunday and then head out for a five-game road trip. Lamar Odom could be inserted into the starting lineup, even though he was bothered by a sore left shoulder Friday, Jackson said.
Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis, who worked with Bynum for four seasons as a Lakers assistant coach, said he had seen an uptick in Bynum's play over the last couple of weeks.
"I was watching a game the other day and Andrew made three quick attempts — he took a shot, gathered himself and went back up again, missed the second shot, gathered himself and went right back up again — so that lets me know that he's getting more control of his body and can do those secondary and tertiary actions," Rambis said.
As for the game, the Lakers (51-18) weren't overly impressive against the team with the NBA's second-worst record.
Playing in front of a silent crowd, the Lakers trailed, 68-66, after Jonny Flynn made two free throws with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
The Lakers reestablished a 78-68 lead by the end of the quarter, Pau Gasol dunking twice, but never seemed too comfortable against Minnesota (14-56).
"We never could shake them," Jackson said.
On the other hand, the Lakers won their fifth consecutive game and clinched a playoff spot for the 29th time in the 31 years Jerry Buss has owned the team.
"It's a good deal for our organization," Jackson said without much excitement.
Gasol had 17 points and 14 rebounds a day after missing practice because of tonsillitis. Kobe Bryant had 22 points and 13 assists after coming out with a pass-first mind-set.
Bottom line, though, the Lakers just weren't sharp against Minnesota. In fact, Rambis was asked some big-picture questions about the Lakers, who employed him for a total of 10 seasons as an assistant coach.
"Some of it is assimilating [ Ron] Artest. It has an impact," said Rambis, who also played parts of nine seasons with the Lakers. "I think Trevor [Ariza]'s outside shooting helped open things up. Artest might be a tougher, grind-it-out on-ball defender but Trevor was a sneaky, ball-stealing off-ball defender. It just changes the dynamics of the team a little bit. I still think they have an excellent chance to win [the championship]."
How long they'll have to go without Bynum remains to be seen.