Lakers 104, Timberwolves 85: The Leap Day Mask-acre

Feb. 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts during the first half of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Tonight was a fresh start, a chance for the Lakers to put the strangeness of the season's first half behind them and begin building toward the playoffs. The setting (Staples Center, where the Lakers have hardly ever lost this year) was right. The opponent (a Minnesota Timberwolves team that played last night and was missing its best player, Kevin Love, to flu-like symptoms) was not especially fearsome. The only sources of uncertainty were how Kobe Bryant's broken nose and concussion would affect his form and whether the Lakers would show up with the necessary focus after a six-day break.

Playing with a hot- and uncomfortable-looking Rip Hamilton mask, Kobe performed better than we reasonably could've hoped. In 33 minutes he scored 31 points to go with eight assists and seven rebounds. The mask seemed not to impair his play, although it might have contributed to his five turnovers. His was a confident, controlled performance, and he got nice support from Andrew Bynum (13 points, 13 boards, three blocks) and Pau Gasol (15 points, four assists, five boards and three blocks) as the Lakers bulldozed the Wolves 104 to 85.

The Lake Show is now 21-14, just half a game behind the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead. More thoughts about this victory later tonight. In the meantime, this is your postgame thread.

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