LA Lakers 117, Minnesota 92

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 13 (AP) - After two weeks and nine straight games on the road, the Los Angeles Lakers are returning home with Pau Gasol and an impressive 7-2 record.

Though Kobe Bryant's finger could use some rest, the Lakers sure don't need a break.

Bryant scored 29 points, Gasol pitched in another well-rounded game, Lamar Odom patched together a triple-double, and the Lakers breezed past the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-92 on Wednesday night.

"What's not to like?'' Gasol said after scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. "We have an amazing team, great players here and a great coaching staff. It's just another level, a level I haven't had a chance to experience in my career.''

The nine straight games away from home were the longest such string for the Lakers since the NBA went to an 82-game schedule in 1976. They did more on this journey than just bring the third-best record in the Western Conference into the All-Star break, though.

Two weeks ago, they acquired Gasol from Memphis in the first of a series of headliner trades this month that will shape the playoff race and the postseason in this stacked-as-ever conference. Los Angeles is 7-1 since the deal, 5-1 with Gasol on the court.

The shaggy, scruffy, 7-footer from Spain has not disappointed, providing the tough-to-please Bryant plenty to be happy about and averaging 20.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in six games. Gasol blocked three shots and worked his way inside whenever he wanted for high-arching jumpers, finishing 9-for-11 from the field.

Though the defense can be better and they have been prone to late-game lapses, the Lakers are clearly having fun and poised for a strong spring.

"It's a tight group,'' coach Phil Jackson said. "It makes working a lot easier.''

Both Gasol and Bryant sat out the fourth quarter. Odom finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists and headed to the bench seconds after getting the last dish he needed for the triple-double.

"I think as we continue to win, we'll start to realize what I do bring to the team,'' Odom said. "It's not about me. At the end of the day, it's about winning.''

Bryant aggravated his dislocated right pinky finger and had an X-ray after the game, but he shrugged off the swelling and didn't exactly sound eager for a five-day break.

"We just want to keep it rolling,'' he said.

Al Jefferson had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Timberwolves, who lost their fifth straight game after winning five of seven in a stretch that suggested they were slowly turning around their season of post-Kevin Garnett development.

"They just outworked us and played harder than us,'' said Randy Foye, who had a season-high 18 points. "A team like us, we can't take off any nights on defense.''

The Lakers were in control the entire time, taking a 15-2 lead and building the advantage as big as 99-68 on Odom's step-back 3-pointer at the end of the third. Los Angeles closed the quarter with a 22-10 run, playing free and easy and running up the score with some fancy stuff.

Bryant made Sebastian Telfair jump and bent his body in the air to create contact and draw a foul while he swished a 3-pointer, converting a four-point play to lift the lead to 65-46.

Later, Bryant delighted the hundreds of Lakers fans in attendance with a left-right crossover dribble that juked rookie and defensive ace Corey Brewer on the perimeter. Bryant drove unabated to the basket for a layup and a foul to make it 96-66.

Bryant made all 13 of his free-throw attempts, while the Wolves - though understandably frustrated by a handful of curious calls - settled for too many outside shots and never showed much life. They were whistled for 27 fouls, to 11 for the Lakers.

"You have to give them a lot of credit. We had a hard time matching up with them at any position,'' Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said.

His team, of course, was ready for the break after falling to a West-worst 10-41.

"We have to make sure when we come back that we get that spark back,'' Wittman said.

Notes: Odom had the last triple-double for the Lakers, on April 3, 2007. This was the 12th triple-double of his career. ... The Wolves are in a 27-day stretch when they play only once on the road. ... Minnesota C Theo Ratliff is still at least two weeks away from returning from his knee surgery, Wittman said. ... Jackson on Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who has been out with a knee injury for the past month: "Andrew is still working hard, but there's progress to be made.''


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