Lakers have Minnesota Timberwolves’ number: 22

MINNEAPOLIS — The Lakers’ luck isn’t that bad. They can still win while holding 21.

They beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 22nd consecutive time, the NBA’s longest active streak, trying to find a whiff of progress in a season as delicate as a house of cards.

It wasn’t easy — was anything so far? — and it ended with a mild controversy, but the Lakers tiptoed away from the table with a 120-117 victory at Target Center, finishing Wednesday much better than they started it.

BOX SCORE: Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117

On the day they announced Metta World Peace would miss at least six weeks because of torn knee cartilage, the Lakers (37-35) ended a three-game losing streak and remained a game ahead of Utah for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were formidable down low and Kobe Bryant and Nash buzzed around the perimeter in mostly successful ways.

The problem, though, was familiar — defense and turnovers. Rinse and repeat. Copy and paste.

The Lakers had their highest-scoring quarter (41 points) and second half (70) this season, entirely notable if they hadn’t given up 71 points in the second half.

Ricky Rubio jumped around after his desperation 28-foot three-point shot at the final buzzer was an airball, apparently after a little contact on his wrist from Bryant’s hand.

Not that Bryant admitted anything.

“They ain’t calling that,” Bryant said. “I don’t think I got him. That’s a tough call to make. I just put my hand there. It’s not like I went out and smacked him across the arm or anything like that.”

But what if a foul had been called?

“We would have went into overtime and won the game,” Bryant said.

He had 31 points and seven assists but also six turnovers on a night the Lakers would have won easily if they could have controlled themselves. They committed 21 turnovers.

Strange night all around. So strange that Steve Blake fouled out for the first time since he could remember.

Howard earned an 11th consecutive double-double — 25 points, 16 rebounds — and also had plenty of shots in the fourth quarter, making four of five.

Gasol had 17 points and nine rebounds, showing better rhythm on his shooting and improved moves in the post in his third game back from a six-week absence because of a foot injury.

But the defense deserted the Lakers in the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves scoring 38 points.

Was World Peace already missed?

He will undergo surgery on his left knee Thursday and miss the final 11 games of the Lakers’ regular season, which ends April 17.

Using the team’s timetable, the earliest he’ll return is during the West semifinals, which makes two large assumptions — that the Lakers make the playoffs and somehow advance past the first round.

World Peace is erratic offensively, but his absence will certainly hurt a team that’s already shaky defensively.

“He’s a ferocious player, extremely physical,” Bryant said. “He gives us that emotional boost when we’re out there. There’s a lot of games where we lack energy and a certain physicality. He provides that for us. He really changes the momentum of the game.”

World Peace apparently was injured after slipping on a wet spot at Oracle Arena in the Lakers’ 109-103 loss Monday to Golden State.

Jodie Meeks started against Minnesota and had five points in 35 minutes.

The Timberwolves (25-45) continued their long, slow fade from a solid start this season. They had eight players in double-figure scoring but, like the Lakers, couldn’t play defense.

The Lakers complete a back-to-back set Thursday in Milwaukee with a chance to erase a season-long imponderable. They haven’t swept a back-to-back yet, something they never failed to do in their previous 64 seasons.

If they lose Thursday, they have only one more back-to-back — next month at home against New Orleans and then at Portland the next night.

“We have to be conscious about it,” Gasol said. “We have to break that streak.”

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan