MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -The bumps and the bruises are starting to pile up for the Los Angeles Lakers as they prepare to defend their title.
Those annoyances always seem to heal just a little bit quicker in the comforts of home, and that's exactly where Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers will be spending most of their time in the postseason.
Pau Gasol had 29 points and 15 rebounds, and the Kobe-less Lakers locked up home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs with a 97-88 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Lamar Odom had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the reigning champs, who have the No. 1 seed in the West for the third straight season.
``Advantage goes to the people who have home court, no doubt about it,' coach Phil Jackson said. ``It doesn't guarantee you anything. It guarantees you an extra game.'
Jonny Flynn scored 19 points and Kevin Love had 12 points and 18 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were missing their leading scorer as well. Al Jefferson missed his second straight game and has not been with the team for the last four days while attending to a relative who has been in the hospital.
Jackson rested Bryant for the second night in a row, clearly concerned more about getting his lead dog ready for the postseason than playing against the worst team in the Western Conference.
Bryant has been bothered by an aching right index finger, which contributed to his 13-for-47 shooting in his previous two games played. Jackson also wants Bryant's legs to be fresh for a run at another title in a rugged Western Conference that could feature all eight teams with at least 50 wins.
Jackson said before the game that he wasn't sure if Bryant would play on Sunday against Portland. With the top seed all locked up, there may be no reason to.
``For the owners, it's a pretty good deal,' Jackson deadpanned about home court. ``So that we're happy about. But we're also happy about being up at the top and knowing that we're the ones that stand there.'
With Jefferson out of the lineup, Gasol went right at Darko Milicic and Love in the paint, getting easy hook shots and putbacks at will.
The Lakers built an 18-point lead in the first half, but they haven't been playing all that well lately and they didn't put away the 15-win Timberwolves until late in the final period. With Andrew Bynum missing his 10th straight game and Bryant and Odom a little dinged up, the Lakers had won just two of their previous seven games.
They were just as unconvincing in this one.
Minnesota outscored Los Angeles 31-22 in the third quarter, with the Lakers struggling mightily when Gasol wasn't on the floor.
Milicic's three-point play at the end of the period cut the deficit to nine points and a 10-2 run help the Wolves creep to 88-84 with 2:23 to play.
``The team that played in the second half, that's the team I want to see all the time,' Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said.
But Gasol added another hook shot and Odom swished a 3-pointer with 32 seconds to go to put the game out of reach.
``The Lakers are the team to beat,' Rambis said.
Rambis spent the majority of his playing career with the Lakers and served as an assistant there for seven seasons, including their run to the NBA title last season. Unwilling to wait for Jackson to retire in Los Angeles, Rambis left the Lakers bench to take over the Timberwolves this season and inherited quite a mess.
With a young team that essentially ignored this season with an eye on development and making a run at the bumper free agent pool this summer, the Wolves have endured two losing streaks of at least 15 games this year and have lost 26 of their last 28 games.
``We have more things to accomplish,' Lakers forward Ron Artest said. ``We just have to keep moving ahead.'
NOTES: Jackson said several fans who saw him in the team hotel expressed their frustration with Bryant being given the night off in his only trip to Minneapolis this season. ``I've already said I'm sorry to a couple people,' he said with a smile. ... Wolves guard Wayne Ellington returned after missing the game on Wednesday against Golden State with strep throat.
The Associated Press News Service
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