LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe 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.
Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers’ fifth straight win overall — and their first game since early 2007 without Derek Fisher in their starting lineup.
The five-time NBA champion point guard was traded to Houston on Thursday, and Sessions arrived from Cleveland to replace him 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.
Bryant still kept the Lakers on track, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 17 points in the second half while revealing no obvious displeasure with the loss of Fisher, his teammate for 13 of their 16 NBA seasons.
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. 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.
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 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.
Sessions made an immediate impression on any Lakers fans who might not have liked the trades that resulted in Fisher’s departure on Thursday. General manager Mitch Kupchak shipped veterans Luke Walton and Jason Kapono to Cleveland for Sessions before sending Fisher to Houston for backup big man Jordan Hill.
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 immediately got the fans’ attention.
After getting a warm ovation when he checked in, Sessions immediately darted into the lane and scored just 13 seconds into his Lakrs 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.
Sessions finished the first half with six points, two assists and two rebounds in 10 minutes, and the Lakers led 50-41 after shutting down the Wolves except for Pekovic and Love, who scored five points in the final seconds to trim Los Angeles’ 14-point lead.
Los Angeles jumped to a 16-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Timberwolves hung around with relentless inside play by Pekovic and Love, whose jumper with 5:11 to play cut the Lakers’ lead to 82-76. Bryant scored four points on the Lakers’ next three possessions.
NOTES: Love missed both of the Timberwolves’ first two meetings with the Lakers over the previous 16 days with ailments. … Hill, the eighth overall pick by New York in the 2009 draft, isn’t eligible to play for the Lakers yet since the trade hasn’t been fully approved because Fisher didn’t report to Houston on Friday. Hill watched from the bench in a suit. … The Lakers’ win streak against Minnesota is their longest against one opponent since beating Dallas 19 straight times from 1995-99. … Fans near courtside included David Hasselhoff, directors Peter Berg and Adam McKay, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.