Masked Kobe leads Lakers' blowout of Timberwolves

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By GREG BEACHAM, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant could be excused for harboring a little grudge after Dwyane Wade broke his nose and gave him a concussion with a hard foul in the All-Star game, of all places.

Instead, Bryant professes nothing but love for his fellow U.S. Olympian, even when the injuries required him to wear a sweaty protective mask in his first game back.

And if Bryant had any hidden frustration about the whole situation, he probably took it out on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Bryant had 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists while playing in that uncomfortable mask, and Los Angeles returned from the All-Star break with its 17th consecutive win over the Timberwolves, 104-85 on Wednesday night.

Bryant didn't miss a game after Wade fouled him awkwardly from behind, giving Kobe the first concussion of his athletic career. After getting late clearance from his neurologist, the NBA's leading scorer slipped on a Richard Hamilton-style mask that quickly turned into "a sauna on my face," but didn't slow him at all.

"It happens," Bryant said. "You just have to deal with it and try to heal up as quickly as you possibly can, and get back on the court."

Although Wade and his Miami Heat visit Staples Center this weekend, Bryant is more interested in Friday's visit from the Sacramento Kings. He'll keep wearing the mask until his nose is less tender — but anybody expecting payback for Wade on Sunday is foolish, he insists.

"It was very simple: He didn't mean to do it," Bryant said. "He's not that kind of person. ... He's a nicer guy than I am, to be honest with you. He's just not the type of person who would do something like that (on purpose)."

Bryant has played through countless nagging injuries in the last few years as the prep-to-pro star hits his mid-30s. He's been playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist since the season began.

The foul left Bryant with headaches, nausea and neck pain on his way out of Orlando.

"A lot of pressure," Bryant said. "It just feels like constant throbbing at the base of my head and neck."

He made significant progress in the previous 24 hours and passed every test for concussion problems from his neurologist, Dr. Vern Williams, who declared him symptom-free before the game.

"I understand the severity of the situation," Bryant said. "You have to go through those steps. It's part of the job. ... It's definitely different. In that sense, you're pretty helpless. You just have to be patient and hope for the best."

Bryant hit his first two jumpers in the opening minutes and finished the first quarter with 10 points. He also received several brief massages on the bench from the Lakers' physical therapist, both before and after scoring 12 points in the third quarter while Los Angeles pulled away. He made 9 of 10 free throws with the mask.

Lakers coach Mike Brown felt confident enough in Bryant's health to put him back in the game with the Lakers' other four starters in the closing minutes when Minnesota chiseled the lead below 20 points.

"Kobe is a special human being," Brown said. "I don't have answers for him. I don't know what he's made of. He's just different. His body reacts different."

Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Andrew Bynum had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who improved to 15-1 at home since losing their Christmas opener.

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.

"From the start, they played harder than us," Beasley said. "They wanted it more than we did. They were playing physical from the beginning. It got us out of our game, and we couldn't fight back."

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 forward Derrick Williams, from nearby La Mirada, Calif., had 10 points while taking Love's starting spot for Minnesota, which finishes its three-night odyssey on Thursday in Phoenix. Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said he decided to rest Love in hopes he'll be ready to play in the third game of the set.

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.

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. Rubio had nine assists and three points on 1-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes.

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