LOS ANGELES -- The Timberwolves started a murderous stretch of their schedule so late in this season with Friday's 106-98 loss to the Lakers.
It kicked off a stretch where the Wolves play the two-time defending NBA champs, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Boston, Chicago and Miami within seven games and since it is as close as the Wolves will get to the playoffs, the Lakers obliged them on Friday and at certain, crucial points played like it.
"That's playoff basketball," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "They're gearing up for it."
Lakers center Andrew Bynum drove that point home with an elbow and a forearm that flattened Wolves forward Michael Beasley on a drive to the basket midway through the fourth quarter with the game tied 87-87.
Bynum received a flagrant foul type-2 for making no play on the ball and instead just slamming Beasley to the body. That caused his automatic ejection and could bring a suspension after the NBA office reviews the play.
Beasley ended up with a bruised hip that sent him to the locker room and out of the game for the final six minutes.
X-rays taken of the hip came back negative.
The Lakers used an 8-0 run in those final six minutes to turn the game from a 91-90 deficit with 5:42 left into a 101-94 lead with two minutes remaining.
It ensured a 15th consecutive victory over the Wolves.
Kobe Bryant, of course, scored all of his five fourth-quarter points during that run on a night when he played on a swollen, sprained ankle and lost the shooting-guard matchup with Wolves rookie Wes Johnson 29-18.
Johnson's 29 points were a career-high -- five more than the 24 he scored in a December game against New Orleans -- but they weren't enough to keep the Lakers from exerting their will when it mattered the most, just like the playoffs.
Beasley declared himself "fine" afterward and said he'd play in Sunday's home game against Sacramento.
"It was just a hard foul, playoff foul," Beasley said while sitting at his locker stall. "They're getting ready for the playoffs. That's the kind of basketball you got to get used to playing."
Rambis tutored Bynum when he was a Lakers assistant coach.
"I know Andrew, he wasn't going up to do anyting malicious," Rambis said. "He was just going to protect the basket. So I think he was making a good basketball play out of it. Those [flagrant fouls] are judgment calls by the referees. Unfortunately, Michael got hurt on it."
Asked if thought Bynum intended to injure him, Beasley said, "If it was, it was. If it wasn't, good for him. I don't really care."
When asked if he was worried Bynum would be suspended by the league, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "No."
"He was going to go block the shot but he was too late, so he just bumped him," Jackson said. "Just gave up on the ball. He didn't do it in a way that was malicious. He just stopped [Beasley's] penetration, but Andrew looks bad and [Beasley] fell hard."
Rambis called the game -- and perhaps Bynum's foul -- a good education for his young team.
"I thought it was good for our guys to see how rough and physical a game can be," he said. "That's a good thing for our learning experience."