- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- In a season full of hard knocks, the Los Angeles Lakers got a little bit of luck on their side when all three teams they're immediately chasing in the standings -- the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors -- lost on Wednesday.
It was a most fortuitous occurrence, especially with a game coming the next night against the Minnesota Timberwolves -- a team the Lakers had beaten 20 times in a row.
"A little bit early to say lucky," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before the Wolves game on Thursday. "It’s just the way it went. You watch it and say, ‘Oh, wow,’ and make sure we take care of our business."
And so the Lakers packed up their metaphorical lunch pails and went to work against the Wolves, methodically picking apart the Kevin Love-less 20-35 squad with a heavy dose of Kobe Bryant and a balanced attack behind him.
You make your own luck, as they say.
How it happened: L.A. raced out to a 16-6 lead on 7-for-10 shooting, but Minnesota tied it up at 18-18 with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter. Bryant took over from there, finishing with 33 points (on 13-for-22 shooting), five rebounds, five assists and two steals. The Lakers built a 16-point lead through three quarters and Bryant's night was finished. The Lakers' bench continued to pour it on in the fourth, extending the lead to as many as 25.
What it means: Let the good times roll. The Lakers have now won 12 of their past 17 games and are just two games back of Houston for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot with 23 games left to play.
Time to get some of that purple and gold swagger back.
"I don’t think they feel like they’re underdogs," D'Antoni said before the game. "They just have to focus in on what they’re doing, but when they get on the court they do not feel inferior or think it’s an upset. I think when Kobe wins, he doesn’t feel, ‘Oh boy, we upset that good guy.’ I don’t think that happens."
Hits: Bryant is averaging 35.0 points on 60.9 percent shooting in the Lakers' past four games.
All of the Lakers starters (save for Earl Clark) were able to call it a night with 5:03 remaining in the fourth and the Lakers up by 23.
Misses: Metta World Peace was informed before the game that his hit on Denver's Kenneth Faried on Monday was retroactively upgraded to a flagrant foul 2. World Peace now has five flagrant foul points on the season. Should that total reach six, he will serve an automatic one-game suspension.
Oh, and World Peace shot just 2-for-7 from the field in the game.
The Lakers had a hard time integrating Dwight Howard into the offense, as he finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He added 13 rebounds and four blocks, however.
Stat of the game: Maybe the Lakers were inspired by Stephen Curry's 54-point magical night at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. The Lakers shot 16-for-32 as a team on 3-pointers, ending one shy of their franchise record of 17 3s in a regulation game, which they tied last Nov. 30 against the Nuggets.
What's next: The Lakers can get back to .500 on Sunday with a win over the Atlanta Hawks at home before they head out for back-to-back road games at Oklahoma City and New Orleans next week.
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne