Lakers 97, Timberwolves 92
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Kobe Bryant truly realized his life had changed when he had to meet with the officials in the customary pregame captains' meeting. Derek Fisher, Bryant's co-captain and longtime Lakers teammate, always handled those duties before he was traded to Houston a day ago.
Kobe shook off the hurt and disappointment of his close friend's departure to keep Los Angeles rolling through upheaval.
Bryant scored 28 points, Ramon Sessions had seven points and five assists as a reserve in his Los Angeles debut, and the Lakers beat Minnesota 97-92 Friday night for their 19th consecutive victory over the Timberwolves.
Matt Barnes scored 17 points, Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 14 rebounds in the Lakers' fifth straight win overall - and their first game since early 2007 without Fisher in their starting lineup. The 37-year-old point guard was shipped out of town along with fellow veterans Luke Walton and Jason Kapono.
Fisher's fellow five-time NBA champion still hasn't adjusted, even after a business-as-usual win over Minnesota.
''Very difficult. I'm not used to it,'' Bryant said. ''I've been with him pretty much my entire career ... so it's very different for me. It's pretty weird.''
Sessions arrived from Cleveland to replace Fisher along with promoted starter Steve Blake, who went scoreless with six assists in 29 minutes. Sessions made an immediate impression with three quick layups and several sharp passes, showing off the quickness and athleticism Fisher couldn't match.
Bryant took charge as usual, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 17 points in the second half while suppressing any displeasure with the loss of Fisher, his teammate for 13 of their 16 NBA seasons.
''I texted him yesterday, and we had a laugh about it, because he knows how I am,'' said Bryant, who had spoken to Fisher several times in the previous 24 hours. ''We just talked about the good times, and what a fun time it was to go to battle together. That's about as sentimental as I'm going to get.''
Los Angeles never trailed for just the second time all season, nursing a small lead throughout the fourth quarter and winning at home for the 19th time in 20 games since Christmas. The Lakers' 19 straight wins over the Timberwolves comprise the longest active streak for one NBA team against one opponent.
The rest of the Lakers must adjust to Fisher's absence as well. Gasol, the subject of innumerable trade rumors since he was nearly shipped out in a preseason three-team deal for Chris Paul, took over Fisher's co-captain role.
''It was a big load off my shoulders'' to pass the trade deadline, Gasol said. ''It was exhausting to have to deal with for two, three months pretty much on a daily basis.''
Kevin Love had 27 points and 15 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost four of five while dropping below .500 (22-23) in a skid that began with the Lakers' 105-102 win in Minneapolis a week ago.
''We know they're great at home,'' said Love, who has never beaten the Lakers in his four NBA seasons since leaving UCLA. ''We've had our troubles with them for years now. We put up a decent fight, but we just didn't have enough intensity.''
Nikola Pekovic had 20 points and 12 rebounds while engaging in a lively clash under both baskets with Bynum, but Minnesota dropped to 1-2 on its seven-game road trip despite outrebounding the Lakers 55-47.
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman didn't care about the Lakers' upheaval while worrying about his own club's slump.
''We have to have more urgency as a group,'' Adelman said. ''You can't talk about it. You have to do it. We have to go out in the last four games on this road trip and make a statement.''
The Lakers improved to 8-2 in a tough 17-day stretch since the All-Star break, increasing their Pacific Division lead over the Clippers to three games.
Blake got no particular cheers and missed two early shots after he was announced as the Lakers' first new starting point guard in 372 regular-season games, but Sessions got a quick start on winning over any Lakers fans who might not have liked the Lakers' deadline moves.
After getting a warm ovation when he checked in, Sessions immediately darted into the lane and scored just 13 seconds into his Lakers tenure. Along with his three driving layups, Sessions' athleticism was impressive to Staples Center fans who had grown used to watching Fisher getting beaten off the dribble by younger point guards.
''When you've got talent like we have in this locker room, it's a lot easier,'' Sessions said. ''I'm looking forward to getting to know the guys a little bit more and learning the plays.''
Sessions finished the first half with six points, two assists and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
NOTES: Love missed both of the Timberwolves' first two meetings with the Lakers over the previous 16 days with ailments. ... The Lakers' win streak against Minnesota is their longest against one opponent since beating Dallas 19 straight times from 1995-99. The club record is 24 straight wins over the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings from 1983-88. ... Fans near courtside included David Hasselhoff, directors Peter Berg and Adam McKay, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.