Odom, Bryant Lead Lakers to Critical Win
L.A. Lakers 92, Minnesota 89
LOS ANGELES, March 15 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant's inability to get it going against the Minnesota Timberwolves continued. Fortunately, he had Lamar Odom to carry the load until crunch time.
Odom had 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists and Bryant scored 19 of his 25 points after the break as the Los Angeles Lakers posted a 92-89 victory over the Timberwolves.
"This was a must win for us," Bryant said. "We had to get this W. We are going out on the road for three road games and we are just taking them one at a time."
Los Angeles' usual reliance on Bryant did not pay off early as the superstar was 3-of-9 from the floor in the first half as the Lakers trailed, 46-40.
It continued a trend in the season series for Bryant, who averaged 27.7 points - more than seven below his season average - in the first three games against Minnesota, all losses.
Odom had 16 points at the break to keep Los Angeles in it and Bryant finally found his stroke in the third period, scoring 11 points.
The Lakers finished the period with a 67-63 lead but found themselves trailing, 84-81, after Timberwolves rookie Rashad McCants and Marcus Banks had back-to-back dunks off steals with 2:31 left.
Odom rolled in a turnaround jumper moments later and Smush Parker made a steal and layup as Los Angeles reclaimed the lead, 85-84, with 96 seconds to go. Kevin Garnett replied with a three-point play to give Minnesota its last lead before Bryant got back into the mix.
"We made big plays defensively," Bryant said. "That's what you have to do down the stretch of those types of ball games - get some steals and some easy baskets so you don't have to grind it out every possession."
The NBA's leading scorer dribbled down the shot clock before finding Luke Walton alone in the left corner for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 66 ticks remaining.
After Banks missed a jumper, Bryant got underneath, threw two up-fakes and laid the ball off the glass for a 90-87 advantage with 34 seconds to go.
The Timberwolves went for a quick basket and got it when Garnett found McCants rolling to the hoop with 29 seconds left.
Bryant again allowed time to tick away and attacked from the left side against a triple-team. Ricky Davis got his hand on a runner by Bryant, but the ball ended up back in Bryant's hands underneath, where he had another layup with 6.3 seconds remaining.
Bryant was aware of the multiple defenders on his two layups in the final minute.
"I shoot pretty good from the line, I didn't think they wanted to give me that," he said. "I think they just wanted to take their chances to see if they could make me take a tough shot and get backside help. But backside help was late, so I got those layups."
Banks had an open look for a 3-pointer before the buzzer but missed everything as Minnesota lost its sixth straight contest.
"I had a good look," Banks said. "I think this was my first end of the game shot, a pressure shot. I would take that shot a million more times. I'll take that shot any night and I will hit it any night. It looked good and it felt good."
When the shot drifted out of bounds, the Lakers breathed a sigh of relief after committing 18 turnovers and making just 4-of-19 3-pointers. Odom knows his club will have to play better to win on the road.
"We definitely have to play as a team," he said. "We can't turn the ball over as much, especially against the teams we are going to be playing in Cleveland, Jersey and Boston. They will make us pay."
Odom is averaging 19.3 points on 62 percent (51-of-82) shooting over his last seven games.
"I am tired and ready to go home and go to sleep," he said. "This is a business trip. We need as many wins as we can get to make the playoffs. This is a big trip."
Bryant was 12-of-25 from the floor, taking his fewest shots this month and matching a season low with just one free throw. Kwame Brown chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds for Los Angeles (34-32), which pulled into a virtual tie with Sacramento (33-31) for seventh in the West.
Despite the two late misses, Banks scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting and handed out eight assists, one shy of a career high. Garnett recorded his 21st straight double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds but made just 4-of-14 shots.
Garnett has four baskets in the Timberwolves' last 70 minutes, dating to the second half of Monday's loss here to the Clippers. Minnesota coach Dwane Casey will be glad to see his team's six-game road trip come to end after Thursday's visit to Golden State.
"It's been one of those tough road trips," he said. "We've been in every game. Learning to close out ball games has been our M.O. the whole season. Before the trade (with Boston in late January) and after the trade, we have been close. It's coming up with the big play down the stretch. That's what we have to learn."
Casey's club got off to a good start, finishing the first quarter on a 6-2 run to take a 26-17 lead. It led by as many as eight points early in the third, but Los Angeles used a 10-0 run midway through the period to claim its first lead, 61-58.
No team led by more than four points thereafter.