LOS ANGELES (AP)—Kobe Bryant scored 33 points, Pau Gasol added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers improved to 8-0 for just the third time in franchise history with a 99-94 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
Lamar Odom overcame foul trouble and scored two important late baskets to finish with 15 points for the Lakers, who matched the 1987-88 team for the second-best start in club history. Only the 1997-98 Lakers were better, starting 11-0.
Yet the Lakers never pulled away from the rebuilding Timberwolves, who lost their sixth straight. Kevin Love had 23 points and a career-high 24 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its 12th straight to the Lakers despite getting within two points in the final minutes.
Love, the one-season UCLA star, finished two points shy of his career high while battling with Ron Artest, who scored 13 points.
Michael Beasley scored 17 points for the Wolves, and Sebastian Telfair had 13 points and nine assists while starting in place of injured point guards Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn. Despite 27 turnovers and 38-percent shooting, Minnesota stayed right with the two-time defending champions all night at Staples Center, hitting eight 3-pointers—three by Telfair, the former Clippers guard.
The Lakers’ scoring depth again smoothed out the flaws in an otherwise listless effort. After playing less than 25 minutes in Los Angeles’ weekend victory over Portland, Bryant attempted to make up for Gasol’s ineffectiveness and Odom’s foul trouble, forcing his offensive game into the middle of Minnesota’s defense for most of his 34 minutes.
The Lakers led just 89-87 after Odom’s turnover led to a thunderous breakaway dunk by Corey Brewer with 5:43 to play, but Odom calmly hit a 3-pointer on the next possession and a layup with 2:39 left.
Beasley’s three-point play cut the Lakers’ lead to 98-94 with 36 seconds left, but the Timberwolves couldn’t convert two chances to get closer.
Los Angeles and New Orleans (7-0) are the NBA’s only remaining unbeaten teams. The Lakers get their stiffest test yet in Denver on Thursday night.
Two nights after thrashing a solid Portland team, the Lakers came out with the same sloppy perimeter defense and curious shot selection as last week’s narrow win over lowly Toronto. Bryant went 9 for 15 in the first half, converting a late three-point play to put the Lakers up 58-52 at halftime.
The Lakers just couldn’t shake the Wolves: After Gasol hit a fast-break layup with 1.9 seconds left in the third quarter to give Los Angeles its biggest lead of the night at 82-71, Maurice Ager banked in a 48-footer from midcourt at the buzzer.
NOTES: Love was the first Lakers opponent with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds since Orlando’s Dwight Howard did it in January 2009. … Ridnour is likely to be out for at least a week with a strained hamstring. … Lakers F Luke Walton missed his first four shots before getting his first bucket of the season, a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. He returned last Friday from a hamstring injury. … Fans near courtside included director Michael Bay, Tyrese Gibson, Mario Lopez and George Lopez.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)