Five things to take from Lakers’ 116-94 win over Minnesota Timberwolves

Below are five things to take away from the Lakers’ 116-94 victory Thursday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center:

1. The Lakers didn’t let down throughout the game. Kudos to the Lakers for not making this game closer than it should’ve been. The Lakers led by double digit leads for most of the game and never let Minnesota really have a fighting chance despite Rick Rubio’s 13 points and 12 assists. That’s hardly been the case in past games, including one a month ago where the Lakers nearly cost a 29-point lead at Minnesota. The Lakers have a large hill still to climb into playoff contention. So no need in wasting energy against teams that shouldn’t field much of a problem.

2. Kobe Bryant became a scorer again. The Lakers are better suited long term when Bryant strikes a balance between scoring and passing. But it’s hard to fault Bryant from completely taking over when he’s constantly getting great looks. Bryant’s 33 points on 13 of 22 shooting remained a product of Bryant’s aggressiveness all around. He made five of his attempts close to the basket. Bryant’s effecitve floor spacing also contributed to going 4 of 8 from three-point range.

It’s easy to get numb to Bryant’s greatness. But it’s mind boggling that Bryant at age 34 is moving with the fluidity most NBA players show in their prime. As much as of a high volume shooter he was against Minnesota, none of Bryant’s shots seemed forced. Instead, Bryant became opted for the scoring role because it gave him the best chance to make a positive imprint on the game.
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Metta World Peace coy about flagrant foul against Denver’s Kenneth Faried

A question about the NBA retroactively penalizing Metta World Peace with a flagrant foul during the second half of the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Denver Nuggets morphed into a 16-minute interview where the eccentric Lakers forward showed off his goofy personality.

He gave varying answers suggesting ignorance about his foul on Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. World Peace suggested a reporter should perform standup comedy with him. He jokingly accused another reporter of frequently singing Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”

Then World Peace claimed he has “a teeth mark on my elbow” after making contact with Faried.

“I don’t want to be in the media complaining for guys coming on my back and smashing me,” World Peace said. “I’m tougher than that.”

World Peace and Howard lead the NBA with five flagrant foul points. Should either of them commit a flagrant foul type 1 in the remaining 24 regular season games, World Peace and Howard will serve a one-game suspension. A flagrant foul type 2 would result in a two-game suspension.

“I can’t take him out before he does it because I don’t know if he’s going to do it,” D’Antoni said of World Peace. “He just has to stay away from that.”

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Dwight Howard credits protective undershirt for improving his back, shoulder

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Metta World Peace near suspension after retroactive flagrant foul

The NBA retroactively penalized Metta World Peace with a flagrant foul during the second half of the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Denver Nuggets.

With the call, World Peace leads the NBA with teammate Dwight Howard with five flagrant foul points. Should either of them commit a flagrant foul type 1 in the remaining 24 regular season games, World Peace and Howard will serve a one-game suspension. A flagrant foul type 2 would result in a two-game suspension. Should the Lakers make the playoffs, the flagrant foul call resets to zero.

World Peace connected with his left elbow to the face of Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried in the final seconds of the third quarter, a play that didn’t prompt any call from the officials. But the NBA upgraded the call upon review.

World Peace has sat out of the Lakers’ win Feb. 5 against the Brooklyn Nets because of a one-game suspension stemmed from his flagrant foul type 1 during the Lakers’ win Feb. 3 against the Detroit Pistons. In that incident, the NBA determined World Peace grabbed the neck of Detroit guard Brandon Knight and struck him in the jaw. Replays show the contact was fairly minor.

Howard last earned a flagrant foul in the Lakers’ win Jan. 13 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. No other Lakers have been called for flagrant fouls this season.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Dwight Howard, Mike D’Antoni praise Mike Krzyzewski’s time as Team USA head coach

With the insistence that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won’t return as the U.S. men’s basketball coach, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and Dwight Howard offered both similarities and differences on how they processed the news.

Both provided equal praise on how Krzyzewski led Team USA to two consecutive gold medals in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics.

“I had a lot of fun with the team with the guys and practices were great,” said Howard, who played on the 2008 team. “We worked extremely hard. He did a great job motivating us for every game and making sure we were ready to go out there and play for our country. It’s sad this is going to be his last run, but he had a really good run. We appreciate everything he did for our team.”

“He’s a great guy and we have fun,” said D’Antoni, who served as one of Krzyzewski’s assistants. “Great coach. It’s exciting to represent your country and do something that’s fun to do and be a part of what’s happening the last eight years and being around the best players in the world. It’s great. There’s no negatives.”

Howard sounded specific on his where he’d want to play for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

“No doubt,” he said.

D’Antoni seemed unsure.

“We’ll see,” he said. “That’s not on my radar right now.”

Howard expressed frustration he couldn’t play in the 2012 Games because of a herniated disk in his back that required surgery last April and kept him sidelined for six months.

“I was [upset] and mad I couldn’t play in the playoffs and mad I couldn’t play in the Olympics,” Howard said. “I was [upset]. I was looking forward to going with London and looking forward to going to the playoffs last season. I wasn’t too happy with the fact I had to have surgery and miss a lot of basketball.”

D’Antoni sounded giddy on how everyone on Team USA embraced his offensive system, something that’s become a noticeable struggle in his first season with the Lakers.

“You have the best players in the world and everybody is putting their input in,” D’Antoni said. “We’re trying to get them to play the way they want to play and like to play and get them focused. When you have the best team, you try not to mess it up.”

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Kobe Bryant finding the right balance between scoring and passing

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Dwight Howard credits protective undershirt for improving his back, shoulder

The tight undershirt Dwight Howard wears under his jersey may look nothing more than just another accessory.

But the device has actually played a large part in Howard healing from 10-month-old back surgery.

“It does a pretty good job in keeping everything straight as far as my back and my shoulder,” Howard said Thursday after morning shootaround at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “It makes sure everything is aligned. A lot of people think it’s a regular polo T, but it’s not. It’s a shirt that was made strictly for posture and making sure it stays like that.”

As the Lakers (28-30) host the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34) tonight at Staples Center, Howard has other issues to confront.

He’s nursed a torn labrum in his right shoulder for the past two months, which initially sidelined him for two games. It was aggravated about a month ago, forcing him to miss two more games.

Howard has gone through frequent icing and electronic stimulation. He tries to minimize posting low so he’s not as vulnerable to physical contact.

“If anybody who has a torn labrum, it’s not something you feel all the time or that it’s something that bothers you when you’re walking or working out,” Howard said. “There’s moments when you feel really good and moments where somebody pulls you or hits you in the wrong direction. That’s when your arm goes numb. It just depends.”

How frequent does that happen in a game?

“As of late, it hasn’t been there that much,” Howard said. “The shirt I’ve been wearing has helped me out a lot. I’ll continue to wear that.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Lakers trying to embrace playoff pressure

Few would’ve predicted this is how the Lakers season would play out.

Even before they played a single game, the Lakers’ high profile acquisitions in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash led many to believe a championship parade would be inevitable. Metta World Peace boasted the Lakers would break the NBA’s regular season win record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Nash and Howard appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Now this is going to be fun.”

Far from it.

The Lakers (28-30) enter tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34) at Staples Center in ninth place, trail the Houston Rockets (31-28) by 2 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot. Yet, after winning 11 of their past 16 games, the Lakers believe they’ve embraced the challenge.

“You got some veterans on the team that enjoy this time,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “Let’s enjoy being the underdogs. Let’s enjoy the pressure, let’s welcome it and let’s embrace it and allow it to elevate our process and elevate our progress.”

Kobe Bryant didn’t sound like he wanted to join that party.

“It will be much more fun when we’re in the postseason,” Bryant said with a smirk.
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Kobe Bryant finding the right balance between scoring and passing

Kobe Bryant’s season-long quest at reinventing himself just took another twist.

Following Lakers’ practice Wednesday, Bryant threw a baseball in the air behind his back, caught it on his fingertip and spun it like a basketball. He lobbed fly balls for a reporter to catch. Then Bryant repeated the sequence several times.

Really.

Bryant did this sequence wearing a Dodgers cap in a promo for the local baseball franchise. With the ball landing the court each time Bryant threw it up, it’s safe to presume the video production team will edit in his catch and spin later.

Meanwhile, Bryant’s continuing to invent his game on whether he will shoot or pass.

It usually remained an easy answer for Bryant, who hasn’t climbed to fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list by accident. But by taking on a new-found facilitating role, Bryant encountered challenges on how he’d ensure team balance without sacrificing his scoring talents.

Not anymore.

The Lakers (28-30) enter tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-24) at Staples Center with Bryant averaging 30.8 points on 54.9 percent shooting and 6.8 assists through four games since the All-Star break.

“I found a balance,” Bryant said. “We found a balance in terms of me being able to keep them involved and find my rhythm.”
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Pau Gasol cleared to work out on elliptical machine

Lakers forward Pau Gasol just made another step in the healing process surrounding the torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

After visiting Dr. Peter Yoon having a successful ultrasound on his right foot Tuesday, Gasol has been cleared to work out on the elliptical machine.

A Lakers spokesman said Gasol’s “healing process is coming along.”

Gasol went off crutches on Tuesday, exactly three weeks after suffering the original injury. But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said the team has still stuck to its original timetable that Gasol will be out at least six to eight weeks.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Kobe Bryant not thrilled Derek Fisher joined the Oklahoma City Thunder

Kobe Bryant admitted he’s remained on edge, and the reasons go beyond the Lakers scrapping for playoff contention and his competitive nature.

Bryant also hardly sounded thrilled that former teammate, Derek Fisher, signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the top Western Conference teams.

“That’s why I’m not happy about it,” Bryant said following practice Wednesday at the Lakers facility in El Segundo.
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Mike D’Antoni: Pau Gasol’s recovery timetable hasn’t changed

Though Lakers forward Pau Gasol went off crutches three weeks after tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said that doesn’t mean he’s recovered quicker than expectedd.

“I don’t think it’s moved up,” D”Antoni said of the team’s expected timetable that Gasol will sit out at least 6-8 weeks. “But he’s doing well.”

The Lakers have gone 5-4 in Gasol’s absence and have noticeably struggled against teams with superior frontline depth, including the Miami Heat, Clippers and the Denver Nuggets.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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