Lakers Lock Up Home Court in Western Conference Playoffs With 97-88 Win Over Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS — Pau Gasol had 29
points and 15 rebounds, and the Los Angeles 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 defending champions, who have the No. 1 seed in the
West for the third straight season.

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.

Coach Phil 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.

Kobe 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.

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 a
little dinged up, the Lakers had won just two of their previous seven

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.

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," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said before the game.

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.

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.

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