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Lakers too much for Timberwolves

This news story was published on January 30, 2012.
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By Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio hasn’t been around the NBA one full circle yet, but he has been around the proverbial block, from the Olympic gold medal game to six professional seasons spent in Europe.

(PHOTO: The Los Angeles Lakers’ Lakers Kobe Bryant (24) drives to the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves defender Wayne Ellington (22) during game action at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sunday, January 29, 2012. The Lakers defeated the Lakers, 106-101.)

After getting another good look at Kobe Bryant on Sunday, the Timberwolves rookie was ready to make a declaration after playing only his 20th NBA game, a 106-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I mean, I don’t know if he’s the best or not,” Rubio said after the game. “But in the last quarter? For sure. I mean, for 48 minutes there are players like LeBron (James) and Derrick Rose who can be in that top position. But in the end of the game, he’s the best.”

Rubio faced Bryant in the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal game and a 2010 exhibition his Barcelona team played at home against the Lakers. On Sunday, he got his first NBA gander at a guy who has won five championships, and Bryant didn’t disappoint either Rubio or a festive Sunday night Target Center crowd that came to cheer him and the previously struggling Lakers as much as they did for the home team.

The Lakers came to town fresh from Saturday night’s loss at Milwaukee, a loss that dropped them to 1-7 on the road while extending a franchise-record streak of 13 consecutive games in which they didn’t score 100 points.

Until Sunday, they had only won that one time on the road, at Utah nearly three weeks ago. Until Sunday, they hadn’t scored 100 points since beating Houston 108-99 nearly a month ago.

They rectified all that, at least for a night, by beating a Wolves team that ultimately had no answer for All-Star forward Pau Gasol’s scoring punch early or big Andrew Bynum’s physical presence and Bryant’s sheer will late.

Oh, the Wolves tried.

They approached the threshold of reaching .500 this late in the season for the first time since the 2006-07 season, peered over and then watched it all slip away, just after a 19-6 run in the second half got them back into a game in which they had trailed by 18 points.

Bryant’s 35-point, 14-rebound night made sure of that.

Gasol’s 28 points (16 of them in the first half) and Bynum’s 21 points didn’t hurt, either.

The Wolves led briefly twice — the last time 94-93 with 3:19 left — and then watched the Lakers pull away for good by scoring eight unanswered points, including four in a row by that guy named Bryant.

“When you’ve got the best player in the world on your team …” Wolves forward Michael Beasley lamented afterward.

Bryant’s performance included nine fourth-quarter points on a night when both coaches pushed their players to the limit for the sake of a single victory.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman played Rubio and Kevin Love each for the entire second half. Lakers coach Mike Brown did likewise with Bryant and Gasol.

“I just felt that’s what needed to happen,” Brown said. “We’ll rest later.”

The Lakers will rest Monday. The Wolves flew out late Sunday to play at Houston on Monday night, after they threw a little-used zone at Los Angeles that worked well enough for them to get themselves back running and back in the game.

Now if they can just find a way not to trail by eight after less than five minutes, by 13 before halftime, by 18 in the third quarter.

“We have been a second-half team throughout this entire year,” said Love, who delivered 19th double-double in 20 games with 33 points and 13 rebounds. “We just have to come out in the first 24 minutes and replicate what we do out there in the second half.”

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