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Lakers draw the perfect opponent in 116-94 rout of Timberwolves

Kobe Bryant scores 33 points in three quarters and L.A. beats Minnesota for the 21st time in a row. The Lakers (29-30) are two games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

February 28, 2013|By Ben Bolch

In this most volatile of Lakers seasons, there is one thing you can still count on.

They will beat the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Lakers nudged the NBA's longest active winning streak against one team further along Thursday night at Staples Center with a 116-94 victory over a team that could rank as a bigger disappointment than they are.

As if that seemed possible.

Kobe Bryant continued his personal youth movement as the Lakers beat the Timberwolves for a 21st consecutive time, the re-energized guard throwing down a pair of vicious dunks on the way to 33 points in only three quarters.

Minnesota tried to defend Bryant with a variety of youngsters, putting second-year players Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio on him. It quickly became time for Plan C.

Bryant drove the baseline in the first quarter for a right-handed dunk over Nikola Pekovic and then easily accelerated past Rubio in the second quarter for another dunk. He went in for a reverse dunk shortly before halftime after Earl Clark came up with a steal in the backcourt.

"I've been in attack mode since the [All-Star] break," Bryant said. "It's go time."

Bryant made 13 of 22 shots, including four of eight from three-point range, before resting the entire fourth quarter. The Lakers made 16 three-pointers, including four from Jodie Meeks and three from Steve Blake.

The Lakers' fourth victory in five games moved them to within two games of Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

They could get back to .500 with a home victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. It's somewhere they have not been since Dec. 28.

The Lakers (29-30) have gone 12-5 since a clear-the-air meeting in Memphis that also seems to have helped them tidy things up on the court.

"I think we just kind of figured out how we want to play a little bit and I think guys are getting in a rhythm and the importance of what we're doing has really kicked in," Bryant said.

Dwight Howard was active mostly on defense against Minnesota, collecting 13 rebounds and four blocked shots to go with the 11 points he accumulated on five-for-six shooting. Steve Nash had 10 points and seven assists.

The Timberwolves, already missing power forward Kevin Love because of a hand injury, were further depleted late in the first quarter when Pekovic suffered an abdominal strain and did not return.

On the plus side, Rubio remained intact and repeatedly burned the Lakers while amassing 13 points and 13 assists. It wasn't nearly enough.

Bryant had 22 points by halftime on nine-for-15 shooting. He didn't stop there, scoring 11 points while playing the entire third quarter.

"I don't know what he's doing [but] it's good," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said of Bryant's resurgence. "He's got a lot of energy."

The productivity extended to the Lakers' bench, Antawn Jamison (17 points and eight rebounds), Meeks (16 points) and Blake (13 points, seven rebounds and six assists) putting together starter-worthy stats.

Howard hardly looked like someone playing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, particularly when he took an alley-oop pass from Blake midway through the fourth quarter for a dunk. Howard acknowledged at the morning shoot-around that his shoulder was still occasionally bothering him.

"There's moments it feels really good," Howard said, "and then once somebody pulls you or hits you from the wrong position, that's when sometimes everything in your arm goes numb."

Howard said a protective shirt he wears underneath his jersey was helping him maintain the correct posture.

The Lakers look upright after wobbling for so long, their season trending heavily in a preferred direction.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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