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Lakers win 11th straight, Bryant injures finger

LOS ANGELES - LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored 20 points while playing with a small break in his finger, and the Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up the generous portion of their schedule with their 11th straight victory, 104-92 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

Pau Gasol had 17 points and a career-high 20 rebounds for the defending champions, who improved the NBA's best record to 18-3 while finishing a season-opening stretch with 17 of their first 21 games at home. Ron Artest scored 16 points and Lamar Odom added 13 for Los Angeles, which hasn't lost since Nov. 15.

Yet the Lakers also got a scare when Bryant hurt the index finger on his right hand while reaching for a pass late in the first quarter. Bryant has an avulsion fracture, in which a small piece of bone tears away near a ligament or tendon.

"It's pretty painful," Bryant said. "I just tried to play through it."

He got taped up on the bench and returned briefly in the second quarter, but then went to the locker room until returning after halftime with the finger fully wrapped.

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 in Los Angeles' ninth straight victory over the Timberwolves.

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.

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 will open a five-game road trip at Utah on Saturday night — their first game outside California since Nov. 13.

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.

Minnesota made an impressive run during Bryant's 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.

Rambis received his ring and 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.

"There's been such a long time from when we actually won 'til now, that all those emotions have kind of gone away," Rambis said. "But it's always good to get it, because it signifies a lot. It's good to show my family, and add it to the others in the attic somewhere."

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 during this decade as an assistant coach.


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