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Timberwolves

Lakers Hold Off Lowly Wolves For 11th Win In 12

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(credit: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Andrew Bynum turned his shoulder and put Minnesota’s Michael Beasley flat on the floor with a flagrant foul, it was the ugliest moment in an altogether unsightly night for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The two-time defending champions aren’t looking for style points as they gather themselves for another playoff run.

Pau Gasol scored 25 points, Kobe Bryant added 18 on his sprained left ankle, and the Lakers overcame Bynum’s fourth-quarter ejection to beat the Timberwolves for the 15th straight time, 106-98 on Friday night.

Bynum had 10 points and 14 rebounds before getting tossed with 6:16 to play for a flagrant-2 against Beasley, who left the game for X-rays on what turned out to be a bruised left hip. Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis both said the foul wasn’t malicious, but rather the product of a physical game.

“He just stopped penetration, but Andrew looks bad, and (Beasley) fell hard,” Jackson said. “He was going to go block the shot, but he was too late, so he just bumped him, just gave up on the ball.”

Despite a rusty return from a three-day break, Los Angeles has won 11 of 12 since All-Star weekend.

Wes Johnson scored a career-high 29 points for the Timberwolves, who have lost 14 of 18 despite a gritty effort against the champs. Beasley scored 18 points before leaving with hip pain after Bynum’s foul.

“That’s playoff basketball,” said Rambis, the longtime Lakers player and coach. “They’re gearing up for it, you know? I thought it was good for our guys to see how rough and physical a game can be, and that’s a good thing for our learning experience. I thought our guys did a really good job in the ballgame. Offensively and defensively, we played a very mindful game for the most part and gave ourselves a chance to win.”

The Lakers (49-20), who have lost only to Miami since the All-Star break, also opened a one-game lead over Dallas (48-21) for second place in the Western Conference standings. Los Angeles was unable to wrap up the formality of its fourth straight Pacific Division title because Phoenix beat Golden State.

Yet the Lakers barely held off the lowly Timberwolves, who led for most of the first three quarters and went in front again in the final 4 minutes.

“We weren’t disciplined out there for the most part, just too loose,” said Gasol, who went 12 for 17. “They played their game and played it well, but we just weren’t focused enough.”

That focus snapped into place after two rough sequences in the final minutes.

Beasley and Matt Barnes argued vehemently after Bynum’s flagrant foul, with teammates and officials separating them. Beasley got a technical foul for the exchange.

“I’m fine. I’m cool. I’m straight,” said Beasley, who believes he’ll play Sunday against Sacramento. “It was just a hard foul, a playoff foul. They’re getting ready for the playoffs, man. It’s the kind of foul and the kind of basketball they’ve got to play, and you’ve got to get used to playing against that.”

After Beasley hobbled off the floor one possession later, Martell Webster’s skull collided with Bryant’s jaw while Webster drew a foul and made a jumper, sending Bryant facedown to the floor in agony.

That got the attention of the Lakers, who already have lost this season to Sacramento and Cleveland — two of the three NBA teams with poorer records than the Timberwolves.

Bryant immediately hit an 18-foot jumper, and Los Angeles made a 13-3 run highlighted by a 3-pointer with 2:33 to play by Lamar Odom, who scored eight points. Jackson said Bryant also was raked across the arm in the final minute of the victory.

Bryant sprained his left ankle during last week’s win at Dallas, but played through it in Monday’s victory over Orlando before resting the past three days. The rest didn’t appear to help as Bryant missed his first six shots before returning late from the locker room at halftime, likely while getting treatment.

Bryant still hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half, trimming Los Angeles’ halftime deficit to 51-49. Shannon Brown, who scored 14 points, then played the first 5 1/2 minutes before Bryant re-entered the game.

Ron Artest also missed his first six shots, but engaged in an entertaining duel with Beasley in both defense and trash-talking.

Johnson surpassed his previous career high with 2:10 left in the third quarter, but Bryant led a 10-4 run to take a 78-74 lead into the fourth. Johnson managed just two points in the final period.

NOTES: Minnesota hasn’t beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007. … Johnson had 20 points and eight rebounds in the Wolves’ loss to the Lakers in Minneapolis on March 1. … The Lakers also have won 10 straight home games against the Timberwolves. … Fans near courtside included the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Stacy Keibler and will.i.am.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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