Lakers improve to 8-0 for just 3rd time in franchise history

LOS ANGELES -- Ron Artest, the former math major at St. John's, could only chuckle at the unfairness of this equation.

The Lakers' worst performance of the season plus the Minnesota Timberwolves' best effort of the year still equaled another win in Los Angeles' historic start to the season.

Kobe Bryant scored 33 points, Pau Gasol added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the Lakers improved to 8-0 for just the third time in franchise history with a 99-94 victory over the 1-7 Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Yet the two-time defending champion Lakers never pulled away from the rebuilding Timberwolves, who got within two points late to create a few uneasy possessions for the home team.

Minnesota got no closer in its sixth straight loss, and Artest was grateful for the Lakers' inherent advantages.

"We won but we didn't play well, and that bothers me a little bit," Artest said. "If we have a loss and play well, that's a different story. I guess it still feels better to get a win, even if it's something like this. We're still a good team, even on a night like this."

Kevin Love had 23 points and a career-high 24 rebounds while creating a monumentally frustrating night for Artest, who struggled to hold the one-season UCLA star two points below another career best. Minnesota lost its 12th straight to the Lakers but emerged with breakthroughs in effort and cohesion.

"I think this was the best game we've played so far, despite the L at the end of the night," Love said. "We got up to play the world champs and we went down with a fight. We played a lot better than we have played in the last four or five games."

Lamar Odom waded through incessant foul trouble to score two important late baskets while finishing with 15 points for the Lakers, who matched the 1987-88 team for the second-best start in club history. Only the 1997-98 Lakers were better, starting 11-0.

"Everyone expects a blowout every night, and it's not going to be that way," said Los Angeles' Matt Barnes, who scored nine points for his new team. "It was just a nasty game. Some nights are going to be like that. Usually we have a good flow and a good chemistry, but it wasn't like that. We just had no rhythm."

Then Barnes said, laughing: "I'd hate to see what a loss feels like around here."

Michael Beasley scored 17 points for the Wolves, and Sebastian Telfair had 13 points and nine assists while starting in place of injured point guards Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn. Despite 27 turnovers and 38 percent shooting, Minnesota stayed right with the two-time defending champions all night at Staples Center, hitting eight 3-pointers -- three by Telfair.

"I just told them in the locker room that the hard part is replicating what we did here tonight," said Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis, the longtime Lakers player and assistant coach. "This was something they've got to hold on to -- the pace and rhythm of how they played, the ball movement they had, the focus and work ethic at the defensive end, how well they rebounded the ball."

The Lakers' scoring depth again smoothed out the flaws in an otherwise listless effort. After playing less than 25 minutes in Los Angeles' weekend victory over Portland, Bryant attempted to make up for Gasol's ineffectiveness and Odom's foul trouble, forcing his offensive game into the middle of Minnesota's defense for most of his 34 minutes.

"He forced things tonight," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who regretted canceling practice Monday. "Kobe was very aggressive to score."

Los Angeles and New Orleans (7-0) are the NBA's only remaining unbeaten teams. The Lakers get their stiffest test yet in Denver on Thursday night.

But the Lakers just couldn't shake the Wolves. After Gasol hit a fast-break layup with 1.9 seconds left in the third quarter to give Los Angeles its biggest lead of the night at 82-71, Maurice Ager banked in a 48-footer from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Lakers led just 89-87 after Odom's turnover led to a thunderous breakaway dunk by Corey Brewer with 5:43 to play, but Odom calmly hit a 3-pointer on the next possession and a layup with 2:39 left.

Beasley's three-point play cut the Lakers' lead to 98-94 with 36 seconds left, but the Timberwolves couldn't convert two chances to get closer.

"We don't take much out of it," Bryant said with a shrug. "The regular season is just about [gathering] enough wins, just trying to get better, and tonight we did that."

Game notes
Love was the first Lakers opponent with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds since Orlando's Dwight Howard did it in January 2009. ... Ridnour is likely to be out for at least a week with a strained hamstring. ... Fans near courtside included director Michael Bay, Tyrese Gibson, Mario Lopez and George Lopez.