LOS ANGELES (AP) - When Andrew Bynum turned his shoulder and put Minnesota's Michael Beasley flat on the floor with a flagrant foul, it was the ugliest moment in an altogether unsightly night for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The two-time defending champions aren't looking for style points as they gather themselves for another playoff run.
Pau Gasol scored 25 points, Kobe Bryant added 18 with a sprained left ankle and an aching neck, and the Lakers overcame Bynum's fourth-quarter ejection to beat the Timberwolves for the 15th straight time, 106-98 on Friday night.
Bynum had 10 points and 14 rebounds before getting tossed with 6:16 to play for a flagrant-2 against Beasley, who left the game for X-rays on what turned out to be a bruised left hip. Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis both said the foul wasn't malicious, but rather the product of a physical game.
``He just stopped penetration, but Andrew looks bad, and (Beasley) fell hard,' Jackson said. ``He was going to go block the shot, but he was too late, so he just bumped him, just gave up on the ball.'
After Beasley hobbled off the floor, Martell Webster's skull collided with Bryant's jaw while Webster drew a foul and made a jumper, sending Bryant facedown to the floor in agony. Bryant, who returned late from the locker room at halftime while stretching out his sprained ankle, still was in a foul mood more than an hour after the game.
``I can take a hit,' Bryant said. ``It was just that my neck snapped back. My neck is pretty stiff right now. ... I'm trying to work through it, that's all. I'll be ready (for Sunday's game against Portland) for sure, I promise you that. I'll be more than ready.'
Despite a rusty return from a three-day break, Los Angeles has won 11 of 12 since All-Star weekend. The Lakers (49-20), who have lost only to Miami since the All-Star break, also opened a one-game lead over Dallas (48-21) for second place in the Western Conference standings.
Yet the Lakers barely held off the lowly Timberwolves, who led for most of the first three quarters and went in front again in the final 4 minutes.
``That's playoff basketball,' said Rambis, the longtime Lakers player and coach. ``They're gearing up for it, you know? I thought it was good for our guys to see how rough and physical a game can be, and that's a good thing for our learning experience. I thought our guys did a really good job in the ballgame. Offensively and defensively, we played a very mindful game for the most part and gave ourselves a chance to win.'
Wes Johnson scored a career-high 29 points for the Timberwolves, who have lost 14 of 18 despite a gritty effort against the champs. Beasley scored 18 points before leaving, and Kevin Love had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Beasley and Matt Barnes argued vehemently after Bynum's flagrant foul, with teammates and officials separating them. Beasley got a technical foul for the exchange.
``I'm fine. I'm cool. I'm straight,' said Beasley, who believes he'll play Sunday against Sacramento. ``It was just a hard foul, a playoff foul. They're getting ready for the playoffs, man. It's the kind of foul and the kind of basketball they've got to play, and you've got to get used to playing against that.'
The sight of Bryant facedown on the court got the attention of the Lakers, who already have lost this season to Sacramento and Cleveland - two of the three NBA teams with poorer records than the Timberwolves.
Bryant immediately hit an 18-foot jumper, and Los Angeles made a 13-3 run highlighted by a 3-pointer with 2:33 to play by Lamar Odom, who scored eight points. Jackson said Bryant also was raked across the arm in the final minute of the victory.
``We weren't disciplined out there for the most part, just too loose,' said Gasol, who went 12 for 17. ``They played their game and played it well, but we just weren't focused enough.'
Bryant sprained his left ankle during last week's win at Dallas, but played through it in Monday's victory over Orlando before resting the past three days. The rest didn't appear to help as Bryant missed his first six shots.
Bryant still hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half, trimming Los Angeles' halftime deficit to 51-49. Shannon Brown, who scored 14 points, filled in with the starters in the third quarter before Bryant re-entered the game.
``I haven't practiced for the last three days, so I kind of had Bambi legs out there a little bit,' Bryant said. ``I just had to get my rhythm down, but I'm OK.'
Ron Artest also missed his first six shots, but engaged in an entertaining duel with Beasley in both defense and trash-talking, getting a technical foul for his trouble.
NOTES: Los Angeles was unable to wrap up the formality of its fourth straight Pacific Division title because second-place Phoenix beat Golden State. ... Minnesota hasn't beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007. ... The Lakers also have won 10 straight home games against the Timberwolves. ... Fans near courtside included the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Stacy Keibler and will.i.am.
The Associated Press News Service
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