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Butler's layup puts L.A. ahead to stay

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Caron Butler finally got an opportunity to
take a game-deciding shot, and he came through.

Butler's driving layup with 35 seconds to play put the Los
Angeles Lakers ahead for good in a 93-90 victory over the Minnesota
Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

"I'd have to say in college," Butler replied after being asked
when he last made a game-winner. "The ball hasn't been placed in
my hands."

Butler played two years in Miami before the Lakers acquired him
with Lamar Odom and Brian Grant for Shaquille O'Neal last summer.
With Kobe Bryant on the sidelines because of a severely sprained
right ankle, Butler got his shot in the last minute of a close
game.

It helped that he was being guarded by Wally Szczerbiak -- not
known as a great defensive player.

"I saw that I had Szczerbiak on my back. I wanted to get an iso
(isolation) play," Butler said. "I clapped twice and Tierre
(Brown) found me. I was able to go over (Sczcerbiak)."

Butler drove the baseline to score for a 91-90 lead, and
Minnesota's Kevin Garnett missed a baseline jumper with 13 seconds
remaining.

"I thought it was in there," Garnett said. "It felt good when
it left my hand. I thought Wally had the rebound for a second."

Instead, Jumaine Jones came up with the ball. Garnett fouled
Jones, and he made two free throws with 10 seconds left to complete
the scoring.

Latrell Sprewell and Troy Hudson missed 3-pointers before the
buzzer sounded. The Timberwolves finished 1-of-14 from 3-point
range and are 2-of-30 from beyond the arc in their last two games.

"It's extremely poor shot selection when you're shooting that
many 3's," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. "We're not
playing very smart right now. When you're 2-for-30, I mean, my
11-year-old daughters aren't very good, and they might be able to
knock down a couple."

The game was the first between the teams at Staples Center since
the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves from the Western Conference
finals last spring.

Neither looked like it belongs among the NBA's elite teams right
now.

Chucky Atkins led the Lakers with 25 points and a season-high 11
assists. Butler had 16 points; Jones added 12 points and eight
rebounds, and Odom and Chris Mihm scored 11 each for Los Angeles.

"Lamar really stepped up and Caron hit a big shot," Bryant
said. "It is a big win. A win like this brings us closer
together."

Odom was limited to 29 minutes because of foul problems. He
scored six points in the last 5½ minutes.

The win was the fifth in seven games for the Lakers (21-16) and
their second in three games since Bryant sustained a severely
sprained right ankle against Cleveland. He is expected to miss at
least five more games.

The Timberwolves (19-19) have lost 11 of their last 15 games and
fell to .500 for the first time since Nov. 9, when they were 2-2.
They went 12-3 last January, but are 3-8 this January.

Garnett led the Timberwolves with 27 points and nine rebounds.
Sprewell added 23 points, but shot just 9-of-28. Szczerbiak had 17
points and eight rebounds, and Anthony Carter added 13 points and a
season-high eight assists.

The Timberwolves didn't arrive in Los Angeles until early
Wednesday afternoon because of mechanical problems. Saunders said
the team spent about six hours at the airport Tuesday before going
home, and three more hours Wednesday morning before taking off.

A basket by Garnett, Carter's three-point play and a layup by
Szczerbiak gave Minnesota an 82-78 lead with 5:40 remaining. But
the Lakers battled back, and a 3-pointer by Atkins with 2:40 left
tied it at 86.

Garnett and Odom exchanged baskets before Szczerbiak got a
basket on a goaltending call against Jones. A free throw by Jones
with 1:07 to play drew the Lakers within one point, and a miss by
Sprewell from 3-point range set the stage for Butler.

Game notes
Bryant seemed in good spirits before the game as he walked
with the help of a crutch into the locker room, his injured ankle
in a boot. "Slowly but surely, I'm getting there," he said. ...
The Timberwolves played without point guard Sam Cassell, who missed
his seventh game with a strained hamstring, and center Michael
Olowokandi, who sat out the third game of his four-game suspension
after a fight in Denver last Friday night. ... Odom picked up a
technical after getting his third personal foul with 3:59 left
before halftime, and picked up his fourth personal 13 seconds into
the second half. ... Sprewell (23 points), Garnett (19), Szczerbiak
(11) and Carter (10) were the only Minnesota players to score until
Hudson made a layup with 1:37 left in the third quarter. Eight
Lakers had scored by that time.