Lakers center Andrew Bynum tries to put up a shot while being guarded by center… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
If anybody says the Lakers aren't tough, they can turn to Friday's game.
There were plenty of rebuttals.
Andrew Bynum was thrown out of the game after flattening Michael Beasley. Kobe Bryant played despite a bothersome sprained ankle and an accidental pop to the jaw. Ron Artest continually jawed with Beasley, long before the Minnesota Timberwolves forward became the object of Lakers fans' anger.
The Lakers were pushed to the limit by the Timberwolves, of all teams, but emerged with a 106-98 victory Friday at Staples Center.
Photos: Lakers vs. Timberwolves
They also picked up valuable ground in the standings on a night when Dallas lost to San Antonio, Chicago lost to Indiana and Boston lost to Houston.
The Lakers (49-20) now lead Dallas by a game for second place in the Western Conference. Looking down the road, they are essentially even with Boston and trail Chicago by half a game.
But there are other items of importance before any of that matters.
The typically mild-mannered Bynum was ejected after committing a flagrant foul, type 2, with 6:16 left to play. He delivered a forceful shove with his right forearm to Beasley, who fell hard to the court and earned boos from the crowd while yelling at Matt Barnes after the play.
Kurt Rambis keeps his chin up with Timberwolves
The NBA will review the flagrant foul Saturday and might suspend Bynum if it is deemed overly excessive. The Lakers' next game is Sunday against Portland.
Bynum was acting out after getting called for an offensive foul on the previous possession.
"He was frustrated," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Bynum declined to talk after the game as he walked out of the locker room while talking on his cellphone. He shook his head when asked if he thought he would be suspended. He had 10 points and 14 rebounds when he was ejected.
Beasley left the game shortly after taking two free throws. Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis said it was a hip injury.
"I know Andrew. He wasn't going up to do anything malicious," Rambis said. "He was just going up to protect the basket."
Artest picked up a technical foul in the second quarter while jawing with Beasley while backpedaling downcourt.
"I thought Ron got a little out of character there," Jackson said. "There was some disrespectful things going on out there that will happen sometimes and I think it upset Ron a little bit."
Are the Lakers tougher after Friday?
Bynum "did what a big guy was supposed to do," Bryant said. "He protected the paint."
Bryant wasn't close to full speed, still suffering from a sprained left ankle sustained last week. Then he got hit in the jaw accidentally while challenging Martell Webster's shot in the fourth quarter. He stayed down on the court for almost two minutes before walking back to the bench. He did not miss any playing time.
"My neck snapped back," said Bryant, who massaged his neck, rubbed his eyes and blinked rapidly while talking to reporters for a couple of minutes after the game.
Bryant had a rough night on the court, scoring 18 points on six-for-17 shooting. He was late for the start of the third quarter, or "detained," Jackson said, declining to elaborate.
The Lakers actually trailed, 94-93, but went on a game-turning 8-0 run. Pau Gasol hit a 12-footer, Bryant added a 12-footer and Lamar Odom hit a three-pointer to give the Lakers a 100-94 lead with 2:33 to play.
Gasol had 25 points on 12-for-17 shooting. Shannon Brown had 14 points on five-for-seven shooting.