LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have been teammates with the Los Angeles Lakers for four years. Nevertheless, Bryant believes they only really started to play together this season.
''In the past, it was Shaq in the post and four guys along the perimeter, which limits his skills and our ability to play together,'' Bryant said after teaming with O'Neal to lead the Lakers past the Minnesota Timberwolves 101-95 Sunday. ''We have a system, we know what to do.
''We've been calling ourselves 'The Combo.'''
That nickname was coined by O'Neal, a virtual lock for his first NBA Most Valuable Player award.
O'Neal had 33 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, and Bryant added 25 points and 10 assists as the Lakers made it 33 wins in their last 35 games.
Bryant made 11 free throws without a miss including a pair with seven seconds remaining that snapped a 95-all tie, but it was his defense on Minnesota's ensuing possession that doomed the Timberwolves.
Minnesota got the ball to Terrell Brandon in the right corner, but Bryant broke through a screen and defended the shot so well that Brandon, after leaving his feet, changed his mind in mid-air and tried to pass it.
''When I came off (a screen), I was open and I went, 'Oh, yeah,''' Brandon said. ''I went to shoot it, and his long arm came in just as I was going to shoot it, so I had to pass, and that was pretty much the game. He recovered beautifully, I was going to hit that shot for sure.''
Glen Rice intercepted Brandon's errant pass, was fouled and made two free throws with 4.2 seconds left. Rice then made another pair after stealing the ensuing inbounds pass to complete the scoring.
''I thought I was beat to the corner,'' Bryant said of his big defensive play. ''I have long arms.''
Bryant gave the Lakers a 95-93 lead by making two free throws with 43.6 seconds to play. Joe Smith's jumper with 27.1 seconds left tied it at 95.
''This is the kind of game I'd like to have at this time of year,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ''It was a good game, to take one out of the fire, and to win a game down the stretch is important, especially on our home floor.''
Ron Harper added 15 points for the Lakers before suffering a bruised tailbone in the final second of the third quarter. He didn't play after that.
''I'm sore, ain't no doubt, I'm sore,'' the 36-year-old Harper said. ''I'll just take it day-by-day. I'm an older guy now, it takes my bones longer to heal. I'll wait and see how I feel tomorrow.''
Brandon led the Timberwolves with 18 points and nine assists. Rookie Wally Szczerbiak had 16 points and seven rebounds, and Kevin Garnett added 15 points and 15 rebounds.
The Lakers (67-13) can equal the best record in franchise history and second-best in NBA history by winning season-ending games at Dallas and San Antonio.
The Timberwolves (49-31), who have already set a franchise record for wins in a season, lost for just the eighth time in 29 games. They trail the Spurs by two games for the fifth seed in the West with two games remaining.
The game was close throughout, with neither team leading by more than eight. After trailing 92-88, the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 13-3 in the last 2:35.
Notes: The Lakers lead the NBA in rebounding, but the Timberwolves won the battle of the backboards 46-40. The Lakers have been outrebounded only 27 times in 80 games. ... The Lakers turned the ball over only four times in the second half after committing 12 in the first half. The Timberwolves had just 11 turnovers. ... The Lakers finished their home schedule with a 36-5 record -- best in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers, 35-5 with one home game left, could equal that mark. ... The Timberwolves (23-17) and Lakers (31-8) are two of the five NBA teams with winning road records. All five play in the Western Conference. ... The Lakers swept the Timberwolves this season. They have won the last 12 games between the teams in Los Angeles and 12 of their last 13 overall.
Szczerbiak 6-10 4-6 16, Garnett 6-19 3-4 15, Nesterovic 4-7 0-0 8, Brandon 9-20 0-0 18, Sealy 3-7 0-0 6, Garrett 2-5 0-0 4, Peeler 3-7 2-2 9, Smith 3-7 4-6 10, Mitchell 2-5 1-1 5, B.Jackson 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 39-90 16-21 95.
Rice 3-10 4-4 11, Green 1-1 0-0 2, O'Neal 14-24 5-8 33, Bryant 7-18 11-11 25, Harper 6-8 2-2 15, Horry 1-5 5-6 7, Shaw 0-2 0-0 0, Fox 3-5 0-0 6, Knight 0-0 0-0 0, Celestand 0-0 0-0 0, George 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 36-74 27-31 101.
Minnesota 25 18 30 22 -- 95
L.A. Lakers 23 26 25 27 -- 101
3-Point Goals--Minnesota 1-6 (Peeler 1-4, Brandon 0-1, Szczerbiak 0-1), L.A. Lakers 2-12 (Rice 1-3, Harper 1-3, Horry 0-1, Fox 0-1, Bryant 0-4). Fouled out--Smith. Rebounds--Minnesota 53 (Garnett 15), L.A. Lakers 45 (O'Neal 14). Assists--Minnesota 22 (Brandon 9), L.A. Lakers 28 (Bryant 10). Total fouls--Minnesota 23, L.A. Lakers 18. A--18,912 (18,997).
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