Lakers forward Ron Artest, center, grabs a rebound over Minnesota's… (Craig Lassig / EPA )
Reporting from Minneapolis — No one, it seemed, could make a shot for the Lakers early on Tuesday night.
But they all still could play defense.
That has been the Lakers' motto since the All-Star break and it's what carried them past the Minnesota Timberwolves, 90-79, at the Target Center.
The Lakers have played stifling defense during the five-game winning streak, all coming since the Feb. 20 break.
"Defense is our key," Kobe Bryant said. "Coming out of the break, we've been doing a great job defensively. We understand that if we're going to have an opportunity to three-peat, defense is
going to be what gets us there."
When the Lakers missed their first six shots, when they didn't score their first basket until Andrew Bynum (14 points) scored with 7:45 left in the first quarter, when they pushed their horrible shooting to two-for-12 and then finished the first quarter making five of 22 shots (22.7%), the defense held firm while the offense wobbled.
Bryant scored 24 points, making eight of 18 shots.
He was one for five in the first quarter, two for eight in the first half, before coming on strong in the third quarter.
Pau Gasol had 12 points and 17 rebounds, but he was only three for 10 from the field.
The Lakers just couldn't shoot straight in the first half, as they made 30.4% of their shots and trailed, 45-40, after giving up the last seven points.
"Even if it did linger on, we really believe in our defense, being able to hold teams down in the second half," Bryant said. "So even if it did linger on, we believe in our rebounding and we believe in our defense. But at least our shooting did pick up."
The Lakers made 47.1% of their shots in the second half while holding the Timberwolves to 34 points on 33.3% shooting.
"We did what it took," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We weren't shooting the ball very well, so we had to get second shots and offensive rebounds and we're capable of doing that."
The Lakers outrebounded the Timberwolves, 53-39, getting 18 offensive rebounds.
"It was a good thing that we did win the battle of the boards against the best rebounding team, I think, in the league," Gasol said.
The Timberwolves lead the NBA in rebounds, averaging 54.4 a game.
They have the game's top rebounder in Kevin Love, who averages 15.5 rebounds and 20.9 points.
But the Lakers held Love in check for the second consecutive game.
The former UCLA star had 11 rebounds and 13 points, barely getting his 47th consecutive double-double. That streak started after his last game against the Lakers, when he had zero points and seven rebounds.
The first time the Lakers faced the Timberwolves this season, Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds.
"That's a guy that can put up big numbers on any given day," Lamar Odom said. "Tonight it just went our way as a team."
And in doing so, the Lakers defeated the Timberwolves for the 14th consecutive time, the seventh time at the Target Center — despite the sluggish start offensively.
"We had a rocking, blazing start. Our best start this season," Bynum said sarcastically. "Actually, we just played down to the competition to start with and that's not our nature. But we didn't want to lose the game."