Pau Gasol scored 25 points, Kobe Bryant added 18 on his sprained left ankle, and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame Andrew Bynum's fourth-quarter ejection to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 15th straight time, 106-98 on Friday night.
Bynum had 10 points and 14 rebounds before getting tossed with 6:16 to play for a flagrant foul against Michael Beasley, who crashed to the floor after Bynum clobbered him on a drive.
Despite a rusty return from a three-day break, Los Angeles has won 11 of 12 since All-Star weekend.
Wes Johnson scored a career-high 29 points for the Timberwolves, who have lost 14 of 18. Beasley scored 18 points before leaving with apparent hip pain from Bynum's foul.
The Lakers (49-20), who have lost only to Miami since the All-Star break, also opened a one-game lead over Dallas (48-21) for second place in the Western Conference standings. Los Angeles was unable to wrap up the formality of its fourth straight Pacific Division title because Phoenix beat Golden State.
Yet the Lakers barely held off the lowly Timberwolves, who led for most of the first three quarters and went in front again in the final 4 minutes.
Beasley and Matt Barnes argued vehemently after Bynum's flagrant foul, with teammates and officials separating them. Beasley got a technical foul for the exchange — and after he hobbled off the floor in pain moments later, Martell Webster's skull collided with Bryant's jaw while Webster drew a foul and made a jumper, sending Bryant facedown to the floor in pain.
That collision finally sparked the Lakers, who already have lost this season to Sacramento and Cleveland — two of the three NBA teams with poorer records than the Timberwolves.
Bryant immediately hit an 18-foot jumper, and Los Angeles made a 13-3 run highlighted by a 3-pointer with 2:33 to play by Lamar Odom, who scored eight points.
Bryant sprained his left ankle during last week's win at Dallas, but played through it in Monday's victory over Orlando before resting the past three days. The rest didn't appear to help as Bryant missed his first six shots before returning late from the locker room at halftime, likely while getting treatment.
Bryant still hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half, trimming Los Angeles' halftime deficit to 51-49. Shannon Brown, who scored 14 points, then played the first 5½ minutes before Bryant re-entered the game.
Ron Artest also missed his first six shots, but engaged in an entertaining duel with Beasley in both defense and trash-talking.
Johnson surpassed his previous career high with 2:10 left in the third quarter, but Bryant led a 10-4 run to take a 78-74 lead into the fourth. Johnson managed just two points in the final period.
NOTES: Minnesota hasn't beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007. ... Johnson had 20 points and eight rebounds in the Wolves' loss to the Lakers in Minneapolis on March 1. ... The Lakers also have won 10 straight home games against the Timberwolves. ... Fans near courtside included the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Stacy Keibler and will.i.am.