Lakers cruise past Timberwolves for laugher of a win

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There haven’t been many of these games for the Lakers this season — Kobe Bryant icing his knees in the fourth quarter, guys joking around on the bench and nobody really stressed about the outcome.

The Lakers created a little space in the second quarter, pulled away in the third behind 11 points from Kobe Bryant (he finished with 33) and the Lakers cruised to a 116-94 win over the Timberwolves. That would be 21 consecutive wins for the Lakers over Minnesota.

The win also moves the Lakers within two games of the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West, and within two-and-a-half games of the seventh seed Utah Jazz (both of whom lost last night.

The two take always from this game are: 1) The Timberwolves are not very good; 2) The Lakers continue to play a little better each game as they find their identity and play with a little more desperation. Games they lost, leads they gave up in the past they do not now.

The Lakers never took their foot off the gas in this game, leading wire to wire. Kobe was at the heart of that — he pushed the team to grab the lead in the first quarter then was key to them pulling away in the third. He did that by returning more to his scorer mode — but he should have with the looks the Timberwolves were giving him early. Minnesota let Kobe get comfortable and after that, no matter what they did, he was going to be knocking down shots. By the third quarter he was three feet behind the arc and it didn’t matter.

Minnesota actually tried a lot of zone but the Lakers did a good job of attacking the soft middle of the zone and shooting over the top of it. Los Angeles hit 8-of-16 three pointers in the first half and maintained that pace throughout the game — L.A. shot 54 percent overall and 16-of-sf32 from three for the game. Dwight Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds but was back to being active again, particularly on defense.

Minnesota stayed within striking distance thanks to their guard play — J.J. Barea had 20, Luke Ridnour 19 and Ricky Rubio had 13 points and 13 assists.

This was the kind of laugher the Lakers thought they would have a lot of this season. Hasn’t worked out that way. But they will take the easy, relaxing win any time they can get it.