THE FACTS: Dwight Howard continued his dominating stretch of basketball, scoring 25 points and adding 16 boards in the Los Angeles Lakers' narrow 120-117 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 31 points and Antawn Jamison chipped in 18 off the bench as the Lakers ended a three-game skid with a sorely needed victory in their push for the playoffs. They now cling to a one and 1/2-game lead over the Utah Jazz and surging Dallas Mavericks for the 8th seed in the West.
The Lakers nearly collapsed in the end, seeing their lead drop from 12 points with three minutes left down to two in the final minute. The game then ended in controversial fashion as Ricky Rubio appeared to be fouled by Bryant while attempting a game-tying three as time expired, but no call was made. Rubio was held to 13 points and seven assists in 29 foul-plagued minutes. The Wolves were led by Nikola Pekovich with 19 points and 16 boards.
Had the Lakers lost would have been doubly painful in their playoff push as they learned today they would be without forward Metta World Peace for the next six weeks due to a torn left meniscus suffered in Monday's loss to the Golden State Warriors.
QUOTABLE: "What do you think? I mean come on. First of all the guy should of never gone and tried to block the shot and he did. What are you going to say? He (Rubio) was pretty much beside himself. I just tried to get him off the court."
-- Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman on the non-foul at the end of the game.
QUOTABLE II: "That's not a foul. They ain't calling that (expletive deleted). I don't think I got him. (But) we would have went into overtime and won the game."
-- Bryant's take on the game's final play.
TURNING POINT: The Lakers began the second half on an 11-1 run to turn a 50-46 halftime advantage into a 61-47 lead. The run lasted just over three minutes and was highlighted by two rim-rattling alley-oops by Howard and Bryant. Despite crawling back to within two in the closing minute, the Wolves could never fully recover.
THE STAT: After a quiet first half in which Kobe played distributor, he went off for 16 points in the third quarter as Howard went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 8:57 mark. Displaying his usual array of offensive brilliance, Kobe scored on short jumpers in the paint, attacked the rim, and drilled a high-arcing rainbow from beyond the 3-point line to complete his run.
HOT: Howard continued his torrid stretch of basketball. In addition to a dazzling series of post-moves and dunks, he's now grabbed 15 or more rebounds in 10 of his last 13 games. He ranks 1st in the NBA with 12.5 rpg.
NOT: The Timberwolves versus the Lakers. The Wolves have now lost 22 straight to Los Angeles -- the longest active losing streak by one NBA team against another. Minnesota's last win came on March 6, 2007 in a 117-107 victory.
GOOD MOVE: Giving Jamison extended minutes in the absence of World Peace. Jamison, who played less than 20 minutes in each of the last two games, logged 27 minutes tonight and chipped in five rebounds with his 18 points. He scored ten in the second quarter while the Lakers starters took a breather.
BAD MOVE: Playing Greg Stiemsma for seven minutes in the first half. Matching up mostly against Howard. Stiemsma committed three fouls and missed badly on two straight jump shots coming off the pick-and-roll.
FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: Not only did Howard roll with 24 points and 16 boards, he added five steals and five blocks for fantasy owners. His only negative came for those in free-throw percentage leagues. Howard was a dismal 7-17 from the line, including 2 of his last 6 when the Wolves employed the "hack-a-Dwight" strategy.
QUOTABLE III: "You think about it all the time, but we are not going any place without him getting over that. He is going to get over it, we have faith in him. He'll do it, but he is not going to do it if I keep taking him out."
-- Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni on deciding whether to take Howard out at the end of close games to avoid "hack-a-Dwight."
INSIDE THE ARENA: Target Center buzzed throughout the night with a large crowd and beefed-up security force. The Lakers are second in the league in road team attendance, averaging 18,914 fans -- just 43 fewer than the Miami Heat. "Kobe is still a draw," said one security official.
NOTABLE: The Lakers shot 72 percent in the third quarter in route to 41 points -- the most points the Wolves have given up in a single quarter....If the Lakers miss the playoffs it will be only the second time in the past 18 seasons they failed to advance to the post-season. The last time was in 2004-2005.....With 31 points tonight, Bryant is now just 34 points shy of Wilt Chamberlain for 4th place on the all-time scoring list.... Tonight's game is the first of four straight at home for the Wolves. Their four opponents are a combined 60 games over .500......Adelman remains stuck at 996 career victories. If he gets to 1,000 he will be just the seventh coach in NBA history to achieve that mark.
UP NEXT: For the Lakers, Thursday @ Milwaukee, Saturday @ Sacramento, Tuesday vs. Dallas. For the Wolves, Friday vs. Oklahoma City, Saturday vs. Memphis, Monday vs. New Orleans.