MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kobe Bryant and the reeling Los Angeles Lakers desperately needed some kind of break to help them out of a miserable stretch of performances on the road.
They got a dandy just before tipoff on Friday night when Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love was scratched because of back spasms.
Bryant scored 34 points and Andrew Bynum added 26 points and 10 rebounds and the Lakers outlasted upstart Minnesota in a 105-102 victory.
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“Anytime you lose two in a row, you want to bounce back and win,” Bryant said. “It was a tough couple of games, but we wound up not losing any ground standing-wise.”
Bryant made four free throws in the final 16 seconds for the Lakers, who beat the Timberwolves for the 18th straight time. They outrebounded Minnesota 45-34, grabbed 17 offensive boards and had a 54-40 advantage on points in the paint.
Derrick Williams had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Nikola Pekovic added 25 points and 13 boards for the Wolves.
Love’s injury is not considered serious, but the Wolves are holding their breath for an entirely different reason now. Ricky Rubio had 15 points, 10 assists and four rebounds, but had to be helped off the floor in the final 16 seconds after his left knee buckled before a collision with Bryant.
Rubio was in pain in the locker room after the game, but did not talk to reporters. A team spokesman said he would be evaluated on Saturday before they play the Hornets.
The Wolves had a chance to win it down one with 16 seconds to go, but Williams’ drive to the basket was blocked by Pau Gasol. Williams wanted a foul but didn’t get the call.
“The ref said he jumped straight up in the air, but I thought he came down on my arms,” Williams said. “I just tried to make a good play and try to get to the basket and not settle.”
Gasol finished with 12 points and 11 boards on a night where his name was floating around in trade rumors once again.
“People already assumed I was basically gone,” Gasol said. “There were some thank you tweets for your services and good luck and all that. Then there were all these people saying it’s not confirmed yet.”
For Gasol and the Lakers, the March 15 trade deadline can’t get here fast enough.
“I adore Pau,” Bryant said. “So it’s tough to see him go through this (stuff). … I wish I could do something. It’s tough.”
Gasol could only shrug, as he has so many times before.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Gasol said. “I guess it’s easy to start a rumor. Anybody can start a rumor. It’s never pleasant because it puts you a little bit on edge, but it’s going to be like that, I think, for the next six days.”
At 33 years old and in his 16th season, Bryant doesn’t dunk as often as he used to. But he broke out a couple in the second half to energize the Lakers. The first came on a fastbreak in the third quarter that got them rolling. Then he blew by Luke Ridnour for another with 3:06 to play that put them up 97-95 and set up a heart-pounding finish.
Bynum converted an alley-oop to make it 99-95, but the Wolves came right back with a layup from Pekovic and a 3 from Ridnour that gave them a 100-99 lead with 1:33 to play.
Bynum was credited with a bucket on a goaltend from Williams with 34 seconds to go.
Pekovic tipped home a missed layup from Williams and Bryant hit two free throws for a one-point lead with 16.4 seconds to go.
Williams crashed the lane and appeared to draw some contact from Gasol, but Bryant corralled the rebound to save the Lakers.
When asked if he saw any contact, coach Rick Adelman said “Does it matter? They’ll say they were in great position. I’ll say there was contact. They’ll say there was goaltending, I’ll say I’m not sure about that. But that’s the way it is.”
The Lakers limped into Target Center on Friday night with a 6-14 record on the road, including ghastly losses at Washington and Detroit earlier this week. They gave away a 21-point lead against the Wizards on Wednesday night, with Bryant missing more shots than Bynum and Gasol attempted in the game combined.
They were just as sluggish early against the Timberwolves, falling behind by 14 points in the first quarter.
“It was two embarrassing losses, but it could have been worse,” Bryant said. “We could’ve lost at home to Cleveland like OKC did. It happens.”
NOTES: The Lakers play at Boston on Sunday. “We’re going at the Celtics’ head. We’re going at their rack,” Bynum said. Why? “We don’t like those boys.” … Bryant surpassed 29,000 career points with 12 in the first half. … Wolves PG J.J. Barea missed the game with a sprained left ankle. … Michael Beasley scored 15 points for the Wolves.