LOS ANGELES (AP)—Caron Butler finally got an opportunity to take a game-deciding shot, and he came through.
“I’d have to say in college,” Butler replied after being asked when he last made a game-winner. “The ball hasn’t been placed in my hands.”
Butler played two years in Miami before the Lakers acquired him with Lamar Odom and Brian Grant for Shaquille O’Neal last summer. With Kobe Bryant on the sidelines because of a severely sprained right ankle, Butler got his shot in the last minute of a close game.
It helped that he was being guarded by Wally Szczerbiak—not known as a great defensive player.
“I saw that I had Szczerbiak on my back. I wanted to get an iso (isolation) play,” Butler said. “I clapped twice and Tierre (Brown) found me. I was able to go over (Sczcerbiak).”
Butler drove the baseline to score for a 91-90 lead, and Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett missed a baseline jumper with 13 seconds remaining.
“I thought it was in there,” Garnett said. “It felt good when it left my hand. I thought Wally had the rebound for a second.”
Instead, Jumaine Jones came up with the ball. Garnett fouled Jones, and he made two free throws with 10 seconds left to complete the scoring.
“It’s extremely poor shot selection when you’re shooting that many 3’s,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “We’re not playing very smart right now. When you’re 2-for-30, I mean, my 11-year-old daughters aren’t very good, and they might be able to knock down a couple.
The game was the first between the teams at Staples Center since the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves from the Western Conference finals last spring.
Neither looked like it belongs among the NBA’s elite teams right now.
“Lamar really stepped up and Caron hit a big shot,” Bryant said. “It is a big win. A win like this brings us closer together.”
Odom was limited to 29 minutes because of foul problems. He scored six points in the last 5 1/2 minutes.
The win was the fifth in seven games for the Lakers (21-16) and their second in three games since Bryant sustained a severely sprained right ankle against Cleveland. He is expected to miss at least five more games.
The Timberwolves (19-19) have lost 11 of their last 15 games and fell to .500 for the first time since Nov. 9, when they were 2-2. They went 12-3 last January, but are 3-8 this January.
Garnett led the Timberwolves with 27 points and nine rebounds. Sprewell added 23 points, but shot just 9-of-28. Szczerbiak had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Anthony Carter added 13 points and a season-high eight assists.
The Timberwolves didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until early Wednesday afternoon because of mechanical problems. Saunders said the team spent about six hours at the airport Tuesday before going home, and three more hours Wednesday morning before taking off.
A basket by Garnett, Carter’s three-point play and a layup by Szczerbiak gave Minnesota an 82-78 lead with 5:40 remaining. But the Lakers battled back, and a 3-pointer by Atkins with 2:40 left tied it at 86.
Garnett and Odom exchanged baskets before Szczerbiak got a basket on a goaltending call against Jones. A free throw by Jones with 1:07 to play drew the Lakers within one point, and a miss by Sprewell from 3-point range set the stage for Butler.
Bryant seemed in good spirits before the game as he walked with the help of a crutch into the locker room, his injured ankle in a boot. “Slowly but surely, I’m getting there,” he said. … The Timberwolves played without point guard Sam Cassell, who missed his seventh game with a strained hamstring, and center Michael Olowokandi, who sat out the third game of his four-game suspension after a fight in Denver last Friday night. … Odom picked up a technical after getting his third personal foul with 3:59 left before halftime, and picked up his fourth personal 13 seconds into the second half. … Sprewell (23 points), Garnett (19), Szczerbiak (11) and Carter (10) were the only Minnesota players to score until Hudson made a layup with 1:37 left in the third quarter. Eight Lakers had scored by that time.