Lakers aren’t especially good in victory, but they’re still best in the West
Kobe Bryant missed his second consecutive game because of swelling in his right knee.
Not that it mattered this time, since they were playing the overmatched Minnesota Timberwolves.
But the Lakers being the Lakers, they built an 18-point halftime lead and then fell asleep before waking up in time to secure a 97-88 victory Friday night at the Target Center.
In the end, what mattered to the Lakers was that Bryant got another day to rest his knee. He will decide whether to sit out again or play Sunday against Portland.
And what mattered most: The Lakers (56-23) clinched the best record in the Western Conference.
They did so by riding Pau Gasol, who had another double-double with 29 points and 15 rebounds. He also had four blocked shots and four assists.
It means the Lakers will have home-court advantage throughout the Western playoffs.
“It doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “It guarantees you an extra game [at home]. For the owners, that’s a pretty good deal, and that’s important, so that we’re happy about. But we’re also happy about being up there in the top, knowing that we’re the ones that are standing there.”
The Lakers have produced the best record in the West for the third consecutive season.
In 2008, they reached the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
Last year the Lakers reached the Finals again, and they defeated the Orlando Magic for the championship.
This year they will begin the playoffs lacking the momentum they’d like. They have won only three of their last eight games.
The Lakers still are tied with Orlando for the second-best record in the NBA.
With three regular-season games left, Gasol wants the Lakers to play with a renewed purpose before they open the playoffs in about a week.
“Obviously, we’re glad that we clinched that down, that top spot in the Western Conference,” Gasol said. “But now we want to finish off these three games. We don’t just want to relax.”
Sunday’s game has significance in that the Trail Blazers are playing for playoff positioning. Portland could be a first-round matchup for the Lakers.
With that in mind, Jackson said he’ll leave it up to Bryant to decide whether he’ll play.
“I’m not putting anything on him about Portland,” Jackson said. “I basically said, ‘If you have to take all the games off until the playoffs, we have to do that.’
“I’m not going to speculate. That’s two days away. I just have to think about today right now.”
The Lakers improved to 5-2 this season without Bryant. Shannon Brown, who started in place of Bryant, had 11 points and four rebounds.
Minnesota cut a 52-34 halftime deficit to 88-84 before the Lakers pulled out a victory against a team that has lost 20 of 21 games and has the second-worst record in the NBA at 15-64.
“I thought our starters didn’t come out with the right attitude in the second half,” Jackson said. “They came out and tried to do everything individually instead of working together. That’s something they can’t do. . . . But they were able to come back in the last six minutes and finish the game up, which is what they’re supposed to do.”