MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maybe Pau Gasol deserves to start after all.
Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup and Kobe Bryant nearly had a triple-double in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 111-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Bryant had 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists and Steve Nash added 17 points and seven assists for the Lakers, who played without Dwight Howard due to a sore right shoulder. They have won four of their last five games and beat the Wolves for the 20th straight time, the longest active streak in the NBA.
Alexey Shved scored 18 points and Ricky Rubio had nine points and seven assists for the Timberwolves, who lost their sixth straight game. They trailed by 29 in the second quarter, but climbed within four in the fourth.
Stumbling into Target Center on an eight-game road losing streak, the Lakers found out at shootaround that they would be without Howard, who flew back to Los Angeles to get platelet-rich plasma therapy on his torn labrum. That put Gasol back in the starting lineup and the disgruntled four-time All-Star responded with 13 points in the first quarter.
With only four healthy guards — three of them point guards — Wolves coach Rick Adelman had few options to deal with Bryant. He started out with the 6-foot Luke Ridnour on him, and it was a colossal failure. Bryant backed Ridnour down in the post mercilessly, forcing double teams and then finding teammates for wide-open 3s.
The Lakers hit eight of their first 10 3-pointers and shot a staggering 71 percent in the first 15 minutes of the game. And when Bryant and Gasol went to the bench, it only got worse for Minnesota. Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks kept drilling 3s, ripping off a 17-1 run to put the Lakers up 61-32.
These were the Lakers of old. Deep, versatile, talented and relentless.
Then, all of a sudden, they turned into the Old Lakers, and Rubio pounced.
Sensing a letup in intensity, Rubio picked up the pace. Looking like the player he was before tearing the ACL in his left knee — at home against these Lakers on March 9 — Rubio threaded no-look passes to cutting teammates for layups and 3-pointers and crossed over Nash to get to the rim, the kind of move he just hasn’t been able to pull off since returning in December. An 11-1 run near the end of the second quarter gave the Wolves a glimmer of hope, and a switch to a zone defense completely befuddled them.
After hitting 22 of their first 30 shots, the Lakers missed 19 of their next 24 attempts. A steal and layup by Ridnour made it 72-64 early in the third quarter, and suddenly the ghost of blown leads past started to hover over the Lakers.
Two days after giving up a 13-point lead with 10 minutes to play to Michael Beasley and the lowly Suns, the Wolves pulled to 94-90 with just under 6 minutes to play on a 3 by Shved. Gasol and Bryant both went without a field goal in the second and third quarters, but Bryant snapped an 0-for-6 skid with a putback, Gasol had a dunk and finished the three-point play, and the Lakers never looked back.
NOTES: Gasol’s 3-pointer in the first quarter was his first since Dec. 28. … The Lakers outrebounded the Wolves 57-40 and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. … Antawn Jamison had 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the Lakers. … Derrick Williams finished with 15 points and nine boards for Minnesota. … The Wolves went 8 for 18 on free throws.