LOS ANGELES -- Playing a bunch of teams with losing records isn't exactly bringing out the best in the Los Angeles Lakers.
But for the most part, they're winning.
Kobe Bryant had 26 points and five assists, Pau Gasol added 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots, and the Lakers pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves 98-86 on Sunday night.
Andrew Bynum added 14 points and nine rebounds, and Trevor Ariza scored 14 points for the Lakers, who have played seven of their last eight games against teams with losing records and lost to two of them -- Indiana and Sacramento. And they haven't been all that impressive in several recent victories.
This was one of them.
The Lakers have won 13 of their last 15 games, and their 20-3 record is the second-best in the NBA behind Boston's 22-2 mark. They beat the lowly Timberwolves despite being outrebounded 53-46.
"We held a team under 100 points. We limited our turnovers to 10, which is good," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, looking at the bright side.
The Lakers forced 17 turnovers while committing 10, and shot 44.7 percent to Minnesota's 36.1 percent.
"It could be," Jackson replied when asked if his team was playing down to the level of its competition. "Our offense was pretty stagnant tonight. We're trying to find a combination out there that can give us better spacing.
"Right now, it doesn't seem like our quickness or our execution speed that I like is there. Sometimes the ball stays on one side of the court too long or we're just not executing."
The Timberwolves trailed 76-70 before a basket by Ariza and four straight points by Bryant gave the Lakers a 12-point lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Minnesota didn't threaten after that.
"We can't hold a lead. These guys [Bryant and Gasol] have to come back into the game [in the fourth quarter]. That's awful," said Lamar Odom, who had six points and 10 rebounds. "We want to play the same way all the time. That's what great teams do.
"It's only December, but we can play a lot better."
Al Jefferson had 20 points and 13 rebounds to lead Minnesota, but he shot 8-of-24, missing 15 of his last 19 shots. Craig Smith added 18 points and eight rebounds, and Ryan Gomes scored 13 for the Timberwolves (4-19), who lost their ninth straight game and fourth in a row since Kevin McHale took over as coach last Monday.
"The guys are going to go out there and fight and scrap. I know that," McHale said. "We've just got to go out there and play a style of ball that will fit this team and stick with it. I don't think that right now, we are able to do that.
"Right now, we are not mentally or physically prepared to push the ball, push the pace for a long time."
The Timberwolves have the NBA's second-worst record and are 2-10 on the road, but they led 57-54 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter after scoring eight straight points. But a 3-pointer by Bryant, a basket by Odom and five straight points by Luke Walton gave the Lakers a seven-point lead, and they were on top the rest of the way. It was 69-62 entering the final period.
"We were in a great position to win," Jefferson said. "I just missed a lot of shots. I think we just need to get that first win [under McHale] and everything else is going to fall into place for us."
The Lakers entertain the New York Knicks on Tuesday night before beginning a four-game road trip Friday in Miami. After the trip finishes Dec. 23 in New Orleans, the Lakers return home to host the Boston Celtics in their long-awaited Christmas Day matchup. ... The Lakers have won eight of their last nine games against Minnesota and five straight over the Timberwolves at home. ... Minnesota's losing streak is its longest since they dropped 12 in a row to finish the 2006-07 season and begin the 2007-08 campaign. ... The game was the first in Los Angeles for Minnesota rookie Kevin Love since he decided to leave UCLA and turn pro after his freshman year. "He's getting better all the time," McHale said. "He really brings a lot of energy, a great basketball feel. I think he's been tremendous, he's played very well." Love had two points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. ... The Lakers were held under 100 points for the first time in 15 games. They've scored at least 100 in 19 of their 23 games. The Timberwolves have reached 100 just once in their last nine games and eight of 23 overall.