The difference? The Lakers have Lamar Odom.
Odom had 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant scored 28 to move past Elgin Baylor into 20th place on the NBA’s career scoring list in the Lakers’ 111-108 victory Sunday night.
Pau Gasol added 25 points for the team with the league’s best record, which is 9-1 since Bynum went down with a torn MCL in his right knee on Jan. 31.
When asked how his team has sustained its success, guard Derek Fisher pointed across the locker room to Odom.
“Lamar has been asked more than anybody to make sacrifices that guys of his caliber normally aren’t asked to make,” Fisher said, referring to Odom coming off the bench for 45 of the team’s first 46 games. “Now that he’s back in the starting lineup, he’s letting the game come to him and his talent speaks for itself.”
Odom is averaging 17.2 points and 13.9 rebounds since Bynum went out.
“I’m just finding my way,” Odom said. “I’m feeling real comfortable out there.”
The Timberwolves wish they had that kind of depth.
“You just have to fight through that frustration level when you think things aren’t going your way,” Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said.
Bryant’s breakaway lay-in with 10:42 to play in the third quarter pushed him past the former Lakers great Baylor into third in franchise history, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West.
The last time the Lakers were here, Bynum had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers’ 132-119 victory, but things weren’t as easy this time around.
The Lakers had height mismatches all over the floor.
Bryant had a 2-inch advantage over Randy Foye according to the listed heights, but he plays so much bigger than the Wolves’ captain and had no problem getting his shots in the low post.
The 7-foot Gasol was an even bigger handful for Kevin Love, generously listed at 6-10, on the low block. The Spaniard routinely beat Love down the floor to gain position in the paint, and once he got the ball, it was all over.
Bryant was 6-for-8 in the first half, most coming on short turnaround jumpers over Foye. Gasol went 8-for-10 in the first two periods with nothing coming from further than 5 feet out.
“He is the best player in the game, the way he plays, the way he dominates,” Foye said of Bryant. “It’s just a tough matchup. It’s a mismatch all around the board. They’re always going to have a mismatch, no matter the position.”
Yet for all that success, the Lakers had plenty of problems putting this depleted Wolves team away. Smith made his first eight shots from the field, the last two on breakaway layups to give Minnesota an 80-78 lead after three quarters.
Bryant converted a three-point play and then a baseline turnaround jumper over Foye with his tongue wagging Jordan-style for a 106-103 lead. He added two free throws and Foye missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal it.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson ripped his team’s defense, which allowed the 18-37 Wolves to shoot 50 percent, make 10 3-pointers and get several wide-open drives to the basket.
“We got lucky, man,” Odom said.
Bryant also had seven assists and six rebounds. … The Timberwolves held a moment of silence before the game in memory of Utah owner Larry Miller, who died Friday. … Former Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo sang the national anthem.