It’s official: The Lakers are 1-0 in the Mask Era.
Kobe Bryant and his plastic protective piece were a large part of the Lakers’ 104-85 victory Wednesday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.
Bryant had 31 points and eight assists but there’s no need to send the item to the Hall of Fame. Mask Mania certainly isn’t Linsanity.
In fact, Bryant fiddled with it often in his first game since sustaining a broken nose, concussion and soft-tissue damage in his neck after taking a hard foul from Miami guard Dwyane Wade on Sunday in the All-Star game.
He took shots without the mask at halftime, but it stuck around, unlike the Timberwolves.
“It just felt like it started sweating immediately inside,” said Bryant, who made 11 of 23 shots and had seven rebounds. “It felt like I had a sauna on my face. ... I was drinking my own sweat.”
Bryant had no harsh words for Wade, who apologized via phone message a day after fouling Bryant. The Lakers play host to Miami on Sunday.
“He didn’t mean to do it,” Bryant said. “It’s something that happens. He’s not that type of person.
Bryant added later: “He’s a nicer guy than I am, to be honest with you.”
Bryant said he kept playing in the All-Star game despite feeling “weird” because he was “just curious.”
He passed a battery of neurological and physical tests Wednesday and received clearance to play from a neurologist.
“I’m fine. I have no headaches,” he said Wednesday. “Everything’s just kind of in the neck.”
Bryant wore a large bandage on the back of his neck after the game.
The Lakers (21-14) were a pain for the Timberwolves in the third quarter, outscoring them, 33-15, and taking an 83-59 lead. They are within half a game of the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division.
The Lakers should have won the game easily, and finally did after a surprisingly limp 50-44 halftime edge.
All-Star forward Kevin Love did not play for Minnesota because of flu symptoms, taking his averages of 24.5 points and 13.8 rebounds off the board.
Not that the Lakers cared in the second half.
Bryant could see well enough to feed Pau Gasol for a dunk with a length-of-court pass in the third quarter. Bryant also scored on a double-clutch shot down low after drawing a foul on Anthony Randolph.
Bryant had 14 points in the third quarter, and Gasol scored 11 of his 15 points in the quarter.
Before the fourth, Bryant received head and neck massages from a Lakers physical therapist on the bench. He returned with the Lakers comfortably ahead and scored seven more points.
“He’s the best in the world for a reason,” reserve forward Josh McRoberts said.
Andrew Bynum had 13 points and 13 rebounds in his first action since a brief appearance in the All-Star game. He showed no ill effect from a lubricating injection in his right knee Friday.
He spun around Darko Milicic and dunked in the second quarter, drawing a foul in the process. On the next possession, he scored on an alley-oop dunk from Steve Blake.
“My knee feels really, really good right now,” Bynum said.
Martell Webster and Michael Beasley each had 14 points for Minnesota (18-18), which plays the Lakers three times in a 17-day span.