for this game

Bryant, Lakers hold off Timberwolves

Dec 15, 2008 - 6:32 AM By Jonathan Raber PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- It took them most of the night to finally put the game away, but the Los Angeles Lakers finally managed to outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves, 98-86, on Sunday night.

Kobe Bryant overcame a subpar shooting performance to score 26 points as the Lakers held off a late rally to win their third straight.

"As long as we win," Los Angeles guard Derek Fisher said. "We'll just keep taking them in stride and keep going."

Pau Gasol finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for the Lakers, who captured their 10th straight victory at home to improve to 20-3 on the season. Andrew Bynum had 14 points and nine rebounds, while Trevor Ariza chipped in 14 off the bench.

After blowing past opponents with ease in the early portion of the schedule, the Lakers have encountered more competitive affairs recently - a sign that they can't rest on their laurels.

"We have to focus on improving," Bryant said. "We're playing extremely well and we have to focus on getting better."

Al Jefferson recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 20 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its ninth in a row. Craig Smith added 18 points as the team shot just 36 percent (30-of-83) from the floor.

"We're playing better," Timberwolves forward Mike Miller said. "We've still got to find ways to win games."

Timberwolves interim coach Kevin McHale continues to search for his first win, dropping to 0-4 since taking over for Randy Wittman last week.

With the switch, comes a stronger emphasis on playing a more up-tempo style, something that will development as the team becomes more accustomed with the faster pace.

"It's going to take a while," McHale said. "Right now, we're not mentally or physically prepared to really push the pace for a long time.

"They get a little tired and are like, 'All that push stuff is fun and all, but not right now.' They've got to get in a lot better shape and they've got to get a lot better mental condition to attack, attack, attack."

Sebastian Telfair kept the Timberwolves within striking distance, hitting a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 76-70 early in the fourth. Bryant answered with six consecutive points to build the Lakers' lead back up to 84-72 with 3:59 to play.

Mike Miller's 3-pointer got Minnesota back within eight points with 2:25 remaining, but Gasol sealed it a minute later with a pair of foul shots to extend the Lakers' lead to 94-82.

"It's always (defense)," Bryant said. "Just our rotations, closing down lanes and trying to create turnovers are the keys."

Randy Foye's free throw put the Timberwolves ahead, 57-54, with 6:32 to go in the quarter. But Bryant knotted things up on the ensuing possession with a 3-pointer. Luke Walton added a jumper and a 3-pointer of his own to give the Lakers a 64-57 advantage.

Rookie forward Kevin Love, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, returned to Los Angeles for the first time as a member of the Timberwolves after starring at nearby UCLA. He pulled down 10 rebounds but managed just two points.

However, Minnesota struggled from the floor for most of the night. Jefferson was just 8-of-24, while third-year point guard Randy Foye was just 2-for-12.