Kobe Bryant had 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists while playing with a clear mask over his broken nose, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with their 17th consecutive win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 104-85 on Wednesday night.
Bryant didn't miss a game after Dwyane Wade broke his nose and gave him a concussion with a hard foul in the All-Star game Sunday. After getting clearance to play about an hour before tipoff, Bryant wore a Richard Hamilton-style mask that didn't appear to affect the NBA scoring leader, who made nine of 10 free throws through the plastic.
Michael Beasley and Martell Webster scored 14 points apiece as the Timberwolves played the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back set without Kevin Love, who sat out with an apparent case of the flu.
Minnesota couldn't duplicate its stellar shooting in an impressive win over the Clippers one night earlier, going 5 for 20 in the decisive third quarter of the Wolves' second loss in their last seven games.
Rookie Derrick Williams had 10 points while taking Love's starting spot for Minnesota, which finishes its three-night odyssey on Thursday in Phoenix.
Bryant made major strides over the previous 24 hours in his recovery from the All-Star injury. He was bothered by headaches, nausea and neck pain afterward, but passed every test for concussion problems from his neurologist, Dr. Vern Williams, who declared him symptom-free before the game.
"Kobe is Kobe," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "I don't think he ever wants to sit out. If he had two broken legs, (he would say), 'Tape this one, and staple this one, and let's go.'"
Bryant has played through countless nagging injuries in the last few years as the prep-to-pro star approaches his mid-30s, so his teammates weren't surprised to see him in uniform. He has been playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist since the season began.
He tried out the mask during pregame shootaround and apparently liked it. Bryant hit his first two jumpers in the opening minutes and finished the first quarter with 10 points, showing no limitations.
Bryant also received several brief massages from the Lakers' physical therapist on the bench, both before and after scoring 12 points in the third quarter while Los Angeles pulled away. The huge lead allowed Bryant to sit out much of the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles led by 15 in the first quarter, but Minnesota got back within 50-44 at halftime. The Lakers gradually took control while outscoring the Wolves 33-15 in the third quarter, led by Bryant's scoring and Gasol's 10 points after a quiet first half.
Brown showed no mercy on his starters after Minnesota trimmed the lead under 20 points in the fourth quarter, putting Bryant and his fellow starters back in with 4 minutes to play.
NOTES: The Wolves haven't beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007 — the longest active streak of victories in an NBA matchup. Minnesota will get two more chances to end the streak in the next 16 days. ... The Lakers have won 11 straight home games over Minnesota. ... Fans near courtside included Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, comedian Chelsea Peretti and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, who greeted Minnesota G Ricky Rubio at halftime.