These next seven games are as close as the Timberwolves going to get to the playoffs.

That learned that a bit Friday night in L.A., where Lakers center Andrew Bynum gave Michael Beasley a taste of springtime rough stuff with a flagrant foul 2 that got him ejected midway through the fourth quarter.

Here's video of the play.

His absence still didn't stop the Lakers from finishing off the Wolves, their 15th consecutive victory over them in a streak that dates to the Kevin Garnett era.

The Lakers did so with an 8-0 run late that won the game.

It also was the time Kobe Bryant -- playing on a swollen, sprained ankle that kept him in the locker room for the opening minutes of the second half -- stepped forth when his team needed him most.

He scored five of the Lakers' eight points in that run, even though he got outscored by Wolves rookie Wes Johnson 29-18 in that shooting-guard matchup.

Johnson's 29 points were by five points a career high on a night when he had 17 by halftime.

Johnson apparently likes the shiny stage that is Staples Center.

And he definitely gets inspired by playing against Bryant, which whom he shares the same agent.

"He was one of my favorite players growing up, watching him, so just coming out here trying to bring out both the best in him and me," Johnson said.

It sure looked like Bryant spent a lot of time Friday night yapping at the rookie.

"He did," Johnson said. "At one point in the game, he hit a couple of threes and he looked up at how many points I had and said, `You me to catch you?' I was like, `Nah, you can stay quiet.' "

Beasley left the game for good after that Bynum clobbered him with a forearm and elbow across the body as Beasley drove the baseline to the basket.

Bynum got the flagrant 2 -- and probably a forthcoming suspension -- because he made no attempt to play the ball and hit Beasley hard enough that he went horizontal and fell hard on his left hip.

Beasley got up and received a technical for jawing at Matt Barnes, but soon hobbled off the court and went to the locker room, never to return.

X-rays of his hip came back negative.

"It was just a hard foul, playoff foul," Beasley said. "They're getting ready for the playoffs. That's the kind of basketball you got to get used to playing."

I asked him if he thought Bynum intended to injure him.

"If it was, it was," he said. "If it wasn't, good for him. I don't really care."

Beasley said he was fine and said he'd play Sunday at home against Sacramento, but let's see how he feels when he wakes up Saturday morning.

Here's an interesting tidbit: Kurt Rambis defended Bynum, saying he knows Bynum (Rambis tutored him when he was a Lakers assistant coach) and saying he was just trying to make a basketball play.

Too much allegiance to his former team and not enough defense of his own player?

You make the call.

Btw, did you notice none of Beasley's teammates challenged or confronted Bynum?

Here's the game story from Friday night.

And here's the early story from Friday about Kurt Rambis and his decision to leave L.A. and the Lakers two summers ago to take the Wolves' job.

There's an interesting quote from Phil Jackson in there that sounds an awful lot like what Rambis probably would say if he could.

That's all I got here from the LAX airport as I wait to board a 6 a.m. flight back home.

The Wolves are flying home later Saturday morning and almost certainly won't practice.

They play Sacramento at home on Sunday afternoon. Kent Youngblood's got that game and I'll pick the Wolves up again after that.

Blog at you later...


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Have swollen ankle, will play: Kobe and Lakers vs. Wolves tonight in L.A.

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Bynum suspended for hit on Beasley