Kobe leads Lakers to victory with small break in finger

LOS ANGELES -- Just about everything broke the Los Angeles Lakers' way during the first quarter of the regular season -- everything except that fractured finger on Kobe Bryant's shooting hand.

Bryant scored 20 points despite wearing a splint on his index finger in the second half, and the Lakers wrapped up the generous portion of their schedule with their 11th straight victory, 104-92 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

Bryant hurt himself while reaching for a pass late in the first quarter, and he played through it briefly before leaving in the second quarter to get X-rays and a halftime splint. The break isn't his first avulsion fracture, in which a small piece of bone tears away near a ligament or tendon.

Although Bryant believes he'll be fine to play on the Lakers' five-game road trip starting Saturday at Utah, his injury was the only real blemish on the final win in an outstanding start for the defending champions, who improved the NBA's best record to 18-3 while finishing a cushy season-opening stretch with 17 of their first 21 games at home.

"It's pretty painful," Bryant said. "I just tried to play through it. ... You just get used to it, that's all. It's just a different technique to shoot the ball with this," indicating the soft-foam protection on his right index finger.

It's too soon to tell how the injury will affect Bryant, who was dogged by a nagging pinky injury for most of the past two seasons. The NBA's second-leading scorer appeared to play with relative ease after the injury, using his left hand more frequently in Los Angeles' ninth straight victory over the Timberwolves.

"Kobe is so skillful that he'll still find a way to control the game," said Lamar Odom, who scored 13 points. "I wouldn't be surprised if he came out and shot the ball like his finger wasn't hurt at all. He can just switch to the left hand and be ambidextrous. He's that good. I've never seen him have trouble adjusting because of an injury."

Indeed, Bryant took several shots and made several passes with his left hand, although that's not unusual for the multitalented former MVP.

"It's not something I can avoid," Bryant said in comparing the injury with his pinky problems. "The other one was on the knuckle. This one is on the shooting finger."

Pau Gasol had 17 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, while Ron Artest scored 16 points for Los Angeles, which hasn't lost since Nov. 15.

The Lakers' exceptionally kind early season schedule officially ended with their seventh consecutive home win over the Timberwolves and their first 11-game winning streak since late in the 2003-04 season. With more than 41 percent of their regular-season home schedule already finished, the Lakers are finally headed for their first games outside California since Nov. 13.

"There's only one loss here or two I could say that I was disappointed in how we played the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We did a good job on our home court and set ourselves up for the road schedule now."

Al Jefferson had 24 points and 13 rebounds as Minnesota lost for the fifth time in six games to drop to 3-20 under rookie coach Kurt Rambis, who picked up last summer's NBA championship ring from his longtime employers before the game.

Rambis received a warm ovation from the Staples Center crowd before the game. The longtime Lakers forward and assistant coach accepted the task of rebuilding the Timberwolves last summer, bringing the triangle offense to Minneapolis with little success so far.

"It's enjoyable to get the ring," Rambis said. "It's very, very beautiful, very ornate, but I always like the boxes. The boxes are the neatest thing. The ring rotates, there's a little light that shines down on it, it's very nice. It's going to have a fun time in my attic. We don't keep them out, so it's a mark of an accomplishment. It was an enjoyable season last year, and I was happy to be a part of it."

Ramon Sessions scored 15 points for the Timberwolves, whose lively play couldn't overcome 17 turnovers. Former UCLA star Kevin Love had an uneven debut in the starting lineup, matching his career high with 19 rebounds but managing just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting.

"We work hard every day to get where Kurt got last year, but it's going to take some time," Jefferson said. "It was a great experience, because they're running the same offense we run, but of course, we can learn a lot more."

Minnesota made an impressive run during Bryant's second-quarter absence, with Sessions making six consecutive shots to keep Los Angeles' halftime lead to two points. Bryant hit a 3-pointer and two more baskets in the opening minutes of the second half, propelling the Lakers back ahead.

Los Angeles then scored the final 12 points of the third quarter to take an 86-68 lead. Bryant stayed in the game until midway through the fourth quarter.

Game notes
The Lakers still haven't lost since Gasol's return from injury, going 10-0. ... Longtime Utah Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley joined the Lakers' television team for the first of six games filling in for regular color commentator Stu Lantz. ... Rambis played nine seasons for the Lakers, winning four titles, before winning two more rings during seven seasons this decade as an assistant coach.