Half: Blazers 48, Lakers 44

The Lakers played without suspended center Andrew Bynum and seemed to be doing just fine until the Portland Trail Blazers ended the first half tonight at Staples Center with a 10-0 run to take a halftime lead. Pau Gasol shifted from power forward to center to replace Bynum and scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds. Lamar Odom moved from a backup’s role to Gasol’s spot and had eight points and five rebounds. Kobe Bryant scored a team-leading 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting. Nicolas Batum had 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting for Portland.

Bynum suspended two games

The league handed down its verdict this morning, suspending center Andrew Bynum for two games without pay for thumping Michael Beasley to the court during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ victory Friday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bynum will sit out tonight’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers and Tuesday’s contest against the Phoenix Suns. Beasley suffered a bruised left hip when he hit the floor.

Bynum wasn’t available for comment.

“There’s a thin line nowadays between a hard foul and a flagrant foul,” Lamar Odom said tonight. “I guess you’ve got to make a play on the ball. … You’ve got play hard and play physical, but you’ve got to make sure no one gets hurt.”

“I suppose there is discretion that goes into (committing) a hard foul,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I haven’t seen Andrew do that. Maybe one other time. Even in practice, he doesn’t get involved in that kind of stuff. That’s a little out of character for him.”

Ready for Ratliff?

It’s uncertain what he could bring to the table at this late date, but it appears backup center/forward Theo Ratliff is nearing a return to the active roster. Ratliff practiced today for the second time this week and if all goes well during three scheduled practices this week, he could be sound enough to play for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Nov. 17. Ratliff played only eight games before he had surgery. More depth is better than less depth.

Lakers 106, Wolves 98

The Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight for their 11th victory in 12 games since the All-Star break. It remains to be seen whether Kobe Bryant or Andrew Bynum will be available to play when they try for their 12th win in 13 games on Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers. Bryant, who already had a sprained left ankle, got an accidental head-butt from Minnesota’s Martell Webster late in the game. Bynum got ejected after thumping the Timberwolves’ Michael Beasley to the floor midway through the fourth quarter. Beasley suffered a bruised left hip in the fall.

Bryant could sit out to rest and recover. Bynum could be given a suspension.

“It was my jaw,” Bryant said, “but my jaw is fine. I can take a hit. It was just that my neck snapped back. My neck is pretty stiff right now. (The ankle) was OK. It was a little stiff, so I had to stretch it out a little bit. It was all right. … I’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”

Bynum left Staples Center without speaking to reporters.

“He committed a hard foul,” Bryant said of Bynum. “He did what a big guy is supposed to do, protect the paint.”

Pau Gasol scored 25 points for the Lakers, including the go-ahead jump shot that made it 95-94. Bryant scored 18 points, Shannon Brown had 14 and Bynum scored10 points and grabbed a team-leading 14 rebounds. He has scored 10 or more points in five consecutive games and taken 12 or more rebounds in seven in a row.

Wesley Johnson scored 29 for Minnesota.

Half: Wolves 51, Lakers 49

Kobe Bryant played (of course) tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he seemed to be moving just fine on his sprained left ankle. His shooting looked out of whack, however. He missed six of his first eight shots and had only six points (on a pair of 3-pointers late in the half). Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Andrew Bynum had 10 points and eight rebounds. Wes Johnson had 17 points and Kevin Love had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves. The Lakers won 14 in a row over Minnesota.

Bynum’s knee trouble explained

Coach Phil Jackson clarified Andrew Bynum’s knee condition before the Lakers played host to the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. Bynum said Thursday he continues to have swelling in his surgically-repaired right knee and also takes medication. Said Jackson:

“Yes, we watch it. He has swelling that develops. But we try to stay in touch with it. He’s not out there getting numbers by playing extra minutes at the end of a game. The other night he came out with three minutes to go. It wasn’t a done deal, but it was time for him to come off the floor. It’s not the same thing. It’s not quite that same level of irritation.”

Bynum still not 100 percent

Despite scoring 10 or more points in four consecutive games and despite grabbed 12 or more rebounds in six in a row, Andrew Bynum said today he’s still not 100 percent after undergoing offseason right knee surgery. “I have a little bit of fluid and I’m still taking medication,” he said. He sat out the season’s first 24 games after having surgery July 28. He has looked sharp since the All-Star break, one of the reasons the Lakers are 10-1 since the break. Bynum is averaging 11.6 points and 8.8 rebounds this season.

Kobe sits out again

Kobe Bryant did not practice with his teammates again today, but he’s likely to play in the Lakers’ game Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bryant has been nursing a sprained left ankle since Saturday. The Lakers can clinch a playoff berth with a victory, so you can expect Bryant to play. He hasn’t missed a game this season. Bryant didn’t talk to reporters for a second consecutive day, but here’s what Lakers coach Phil Jackson said:

“We’ll just see. We’ll see how it is tomorrow and we’ll go from there. He says he’s got good strength in his ankle. It’s still swollen quite a bit, but he’s got strength in it and feels he can play.”

Bryant update

Kobe Bryant didn’t practice with his teammates today, sitting out to have treatment on his sprained left ankle. But Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he hopes Bryant will get on the court Thursday if only to work on his shooting. Said Jackson: It’s still an ankle that was badly sprained.He’s still going to be doing therapy a lot. Today, he stayed off it. Tomorrow, he may come on the court. I asked him if he could shoot to get some shots in. But we’ll see about that.” Bryant was hurt during the Lakers’ victory Saturday over the Dallas Mavericks.

Second place???

I realize the standings say the Dallas Mavericks are still percentage points ahead of the Lakers for second place in the Western Conference standings. I say the Lakers are ahead of the Mavericks, 48 victories to 47. Until the Mavericks get their 48th win, I say the Lakers are ahead of the Mavericks. Follow my logic: if both teams play the rest of their games and they lose all of them, the Lakers would still be ahead, right? Of course, the teams play against March 31, so somebody definitely will not lose ’em all.

The problem is that the teams haven’t played the same number of games, so the AP (which keeps track of the standings for newspapers and Websites) relies on winning percentage to determine places. It can create some absurdities. Several seasons ago, the Lakers were placed first in the conference standings because they were percentage points ahead of (I forget the team), but they also were listed as a half-game behind (team X), which was the height of craziness. So … discuss.