MINNEAPOLIS - In their first game without injured forward Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers did what they always do: they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Their 120-117 victory over theTimberwolves at Target Center Wednesday was the Lakers' 22nd straight vs. Minnesota, the longest active streak in the NBA.
But few of those games had this drama.
A late charge by the Wolves twice shaved a Lakers' 14-point fourth-quarter lead to two. Then with 3.4 seconds left and the Lakers leading by three, Kobe Bryant missed a free throw. Ricky Rubio got the rebound, dribbled past the mid-court line and attempted a 28-foot shot as time expired.
What happened next is open for debate.
Rubio felt he'd been fouled on the wrist by a trailing Bryant. He was shocked and dismayed.
"Sometimes it's tough when you give everything and something like that happens," he said. "It's hard."
Bryant? He was a bit less emotional, a bit more businesslike.
"That's not a foul," he said. "Nah, they ain't calling that. I don't think I got him. But, you know, that's a tough call to make. I just put my hand there. It's not like I went out and smacked him across the arm."
But would he have been surprised if a whistle had been blown?
"We'd have went into overtime and won the game," Bryant said. "Simple as that."
Bottom line, no call was made, and there is no guarantee Rubio would have made all three free throws. Still, it probably shouldn't have gotten that close in the first place.
The Lakers, who will have to get used to playing without World Peace, and with a three-game losing streak and a fight for a Western Conference playoff position, appeared to have this in hand.
Bryant had 31 points, center Dwight Howard had 25 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and five blocks and Pau Gasol had 17 points and nine rebounds.
The Lakers (37-35) led by four at halftime but started the third quarter with an 11-1 run to take control, leading by 12 entering the fourth quarter. That lead grew to 14 twice, the last time on Howard's basket with 5:53 left.
But the Wolves, who had eight players in double figures, came roaring back.
It started with the decision to foul Howard and send him to the line, where he struggled . That plus a 16-point fourth quarter by reserve forward Dante Cunningham fueled the comeback.
The lead was cut to just two on Cunningham's put-back with 11.8 second left and again on Nikola Pekovic's put-back with 4.3 left. Bryant was fouled, made the first, but missed the second. The rest? A matter of opinion.
"I was happy," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of the no-call. "I don't know about surprised. I didn't see anything."
Howard joked that he had his eyes closed. Wolves coach Rick Adelman? "What do you think?" he asked. "I mean, come on."
It all ended up as just another Wolves loss to the Lakers despite 19 points by Pekovic, 18 by Cunningham, 15 from Derrick Williams and 14 by Chase Budinger.
It was much needed by the Lakers, no matter how it happened.
"We are going to miss him," D'Antoni said of World Peace.
"But Jodie (Meeks) and Antawn (Jamison) gave us some good minutes. We have good guys. It's just one less guy you can count on."
For the Wolves, well out of the playoff race and without consecutive wins since mid-December, it was just another frustrating blow.
"We have to earn it, we have to earn that respect," Rubio said, referring to the officials. "I don't understand how things are going sometimes. ... Sometimes it's not fair. But we have to improve things we can control."
NOTES: The Lakers announced Wednesday that World Peace will need surgery on his left knee and will be out at least six weeks. And while that doesn't technically mean the lateral meniscus tear is a season-ending injury, the Lakers would have to advance deep into the playoffs for him to return. He sustained the injury Monday against Golden State. "The thing we'll miss is his defense," D'Antoni said. "We can put him on guys, either in the post or on the perimeter and not worry about it." Jodie Meeks moves into the starting lineup, with Kobe Bryant handling the small forward position on defense... No date has yet been set for a CT scan to be taken on Kevin Love's healing right hand. It still could happen by the weekend. The scan would be sent to his New York surgeon, at which time he could be cleared for full contact. Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Love would need some work before returning to action, which could be difficult given the Wolves limited opportunity for practice. Still, Love could do contact work on one-on-one or two-on-two situations next week, if he's cleared. One thing is sure, Adelman would like to see Love play: "You'd like to see our guys get in the court together. We haven't seen that very much. That helps us as far as moving forward, too."