Lakers stretch streak to 21 wins vs. Timberwolves

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- It has been a while since the Los Angeles Lakers had the luxury of leaving Kobe Bryant on the bench during the fourth quarter of a game.
You could say it was just what the doctor ordered, if the doctor wasn't already busy wrapping, poking, prodding and splinting the hobbled, wobbled Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bryant had 33 points in three quarters then watched in comfort as the Lakers continued their domination of the Timberwolves with a 116-94 win on Thursday night at Staples Center.
The Lakers entered the game with a 20-game winning streak over the Timberwolves -- the current longest for one team over the same opponent -- and No. 21 was just about decided by halftime.
"We've had time together," Los Angeles point guard Steve Nash said of the Lakers' recent strong play, which has enabled them to climb to within two games in the battle for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. "We have a little bit more of an understanding at both ends of the floor; there's that familiarity at least in part that I think allows us to be a little more efficient."
Behind a streaking Bryant, Los Angeles built a 10-point halftime lead and things only got better for the Lakers from there. Los Angeles extended the lead to 17 in the third quarter and led by as many as 25 as the team shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
Perhaps most important for a team that often has been stagnant on offense this season, the Lakers had six players score in double figures and tallied 30 assists and just 14 turnovers, including just five in the first half.
Bryant led the way, connecting on 13 of 22 field goals and 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He added five assists and five rebounds.
"He really got on a roll," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "We were trying to stay in his vision, but he made some long threes. He got it going, and we were just battling uphill the whole game."
Dwight Howard added 13 rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Antawn Jamison paced an active Los Angeles bench with 17 points and eight rebounds. Jodie Meeks had 16 points off the bench and Steve Blake added 13 points, six assists and seven rebounds as the Lakers reserves outscored Minnesota's 52-34.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Blake said. "Just try to find the gaps, find the open lanes for passes. Then when my shot's there, knock it down."
Added Jamison: "We're playing with the ultimate confidence. We rely on each other. We never know who's going to score. Myself, Jodie, Earl -- we have pretty good chemistry. That's been the one thing hindering us this season, trying to get that chemistry."
J.J. Barea led a hobbled Minnesota squad with 20 points, five assists and four rebounds off the bench. Luke Ridnour added 19 points and Derrick Williams had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Timberwolves, who shot 46 percent from the field.
"I've never seen anything like this," Adelman said of Minnesota's injury issues. "It's not just getting injuries; when guys do start trickling back, they've never played together. We have no rhythm as a team, and we're just trying to fit people in."
NOTES: Both teams have been ravaged by injuries this season. Pau Gasol (torn plantar fascia) and Jordan Hill (hip) remain out for the Lakers, and Andrei Kirilenko (calf), Chase Budinger (knee), Kevin Love (hand), Brandon Roy (knee) and Malcolm Lee (knee/hip) are sidelined for the Timberwolves. ... Minnesota's losing streak against the Lakers stretches to a March 6, 2007, double-overtime win. ... Los Angeles defeated Minnesota 111-100 on Feb. 1 at Target Center. Bryant narrowly missed a triple-double in the win and Gasol led all scorers with 22 points. ... Minnesota entered the game 15-3 when outshooting its opponent. ... Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to 29,000 points in the Lakers' win at Minnesota on March 9, 2012. ... Conversely, in the Lakers' win at Dallas on Feb. 24, Bryant became the second-oldest player in NBA history to post 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while shooting better than 60 percent from the field.

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