Created: 12/21/2013 9:06 AM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart
Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013.
Photo: Photo: AP/Chris Carlson
The injury-ridden Los Angeles Lakers already have spent so much time playing without Kobe Bryant, losing him again for an extended period won't take them in uncharted territory.
Xavier Henry, the fourth player to start at point guard this season for coach Mike D'Antoni, scored 21 points and the Lakers began another long stretch without their 15-time All-Star by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-91 Friday night.
Bryant is expected to miss at least six weeks because of a fracture in his left knee, which occurred Tuesday night at Memphis when he fell to the court late in the third quarter of the Lakers' 96-92 win. The NBA's fourth all-time leading scorer finished that game, hitting a clutch 3-pointer to help seal the win. But an MRI on Thursday revealed the injury.
Bryant missed the first 19 games of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, an injury that occurred on April 12 - with two games left before the playoffs.
"It just prepared us," Henry said. "I mean, we started without him, and right now unfortunately we're without him again. But we know we can play. We know we can win games, and we have the confidence that we have other people that can do the job."
The Lakers returned from a 2-2 road trip and ended a three-game home losing streak. Pau Gasol, the only player to start all 26 games for the Lakers, had 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
Reserve Nick Young scored 25 points, including a 4-point play that gave the Lakers a lead after Corey Brewer fouled him behind the arc with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
"We played to our strengths," Henry said. "I mean, me and Nick can attack them in different ways. Jodie Meeks can shoot it, and we've got a guy like Pau who's a really good playmaker."
Bryant, who last month signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension at age 35, made his return Dec. 8 and played just six games - all in 10 days. The 18-year veteran averaged over 32 minutes in the last three while shifting to point guard because of injuries to Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
The 39-year-old Nash, a two-time MVP who hasn't played since Nov. 10 because of back and hamstring issues, has played as many games as Bryant - and will remain sidelined at least four more weeks with nerve root irritation in his back. Blake missed his fifth game because of a torn ligament in his right elbow, and Farmar sat out his eighth due to a torn left hamstring.
D'Antoni used his 11th starting lineup, and Henry shot 8 for 19 and had four assists in 42 minutes. As a team, the Lakers had 27 assists despite the absence of a bona fide point guard.
"They understand the moment and they understand that this is their opportunity," D'Antoni said.
Kevin Love scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and grabbed 13 rebounds for Minnesota, but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers broke open a tight game with 3-pointers by Gasol and Young to help extend their lead to 100-91 with 2 minutes remaining. They outscored Minnesota 9-0 over the final 3:18.
Nikola Pekovic had 22 points and 13 boards, but Brewer finished with just five points after missing all eight field goal attempts. Point guard Ricky Rubio missed the morning shootaround because he wasn't feeling well. He played 30 minutes, finishing with six points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Love powered the Timberwolves to a 53-51 halftime lead, fueling an 18-3 run with seven points in a 1:50 span to help turn an 11-point deficit into a 51-47 lead in the final minute of the second quarter.
"No energy. We have to be better than that," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "They outworked us all night long. It was a poor game on our part. "
NOTES: Henry was the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, by Memphis. His older brother C.J. was the 17th overall pick in the 2005 baseball draft, by the Yankees. ... This is the first time since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles that the Lakers have failed to go more than a game over .500 through their first 26 games in back-to-back seasons. ... Love has fouled out only once in 313 NBA games. It was against the Lakers on Jan. 30, 2009 - as a reserve - in a 132-119 loss at Minnesota.
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