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Bryant passes Jordan in Lakers’ win over Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS — As he drew closer in the last few days to surpassing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tended to downplay the achievement amid an endless flurry of questions about his legacy.

But when the moment final came on Sunday, Bryant found himself suddenly flushed with emotion.

Entering Sunday needing only nine points to move past Jordan’s mark of 32,292, Bryant overtook the Chicago Bulls legend with a free throw in the second quarter. Bryant went on to put up a team-high 26 points in the Lakers’ 100-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

For Bryant, bypassing Jordan trigged a moment of reflection as he plays through his 19th season and what could be one of the final chapters in his storied career.

“It’s kind of like, it’s been such an evolution, now I appreciate the game even more,” Bryant said. “It has this sort of finale to it. Moments like this come around, you’re really overjoyed by it. At the same time, the end is pretty near, which is just fine, too.”

Shortly after Minnesota tied the game at 94 with 1:22 to go, Bryant added a flourish to his milestone night by hitting a 3-pointer that was enough to fend off the Timberwolves in the Lakers’ third straight victory.

Bryant (32,310) now sits behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) in career points.

When Bryant sank his second free throw, it set off a roar from the Minnesota crowd and a celebration at midcourt, with players and coaches from both sides taking a moment to offer their congratulations.

It was a moment Bryant said he wasn’t expecting.

“I’m so used to being a villain all the time on the road,” Bryant said. “It took a minute to kind of adjust … to have moments like that — you’re not expecting a hug and you get a hug. It’s a pretty good feeling.”

Lakers forward Carlos Boozer scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, which proved key to helping keep Minnesota at bay late in the game. Boozer added 13 rebounds to notch his fourth double-double of the season.

Minnesota forward Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to tie his career high with 28 points for his third 20-point performance in his past six games. Rookie forward Andrew Wiggins finished with 16 points, shooting 4-for-12 from the floor but hitting all eight of his free throws.

The Timberwolves appeared poised to complete their late-game rally when Wiggins followed center Gorgui Dieng’s dunk with a pair of free throws to tie the game, but Bryant ensured that the comeback wouldn’t be completed.

“Tonight he was just so good,” Muhammad said of Bryant. “He wasn’t going to let his team lose. I don’t know if it was because of his record or what. But we were playing really hard and I thought we really had that game until he kind of switched it on us and hit that 3.”

Los Angeles coach Byron Scott said it was a good thing the Lakers held on to win, because if they hadn’t, Bryant’s upbeat postgame press conference would have been much different.

“He would have been pissed,” Scott said. “That’s the truth. He would have been pissed and so would I.”

The Timberwolves (5-18) lost for the 11th time in 13 games.

Minnesota forward Robbie Hummel drilled a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 73, but while the Timberwolves stayed close, the Lakers never allowed them to reclaim a lead after the first quarter.

Wiggins fueled a quick start for the Timberwolves by scoring the team’s first six points. However, Minnesota ran into trouble when Wiggins was forced to the bench eight minutes into the first quarter after picking up his second foul.

With Wiggins sitting out, the Lakers (8-16) put together an 8-0 run as the Timberwolves missed seven straight shots to end the first quarter down 22-19.

Bryant shot 1-for-5 from the floor to produce four first-quarter points, but he sparked the Lakers in the second quarter with 10 points, stretching Los Angeles’ lead to seven points. Minnesota drew within one point late in the second quarter before the Lakers secured a 49-44 lead heading into halftime.

The Lakers widened the deficit to 10 points midway through the third quarter, but Muhammad scored nine of Minnesota’s next 14 points to trigger a Timberwolves rally that continued into the final quarter.

NOTES: Timberwolves C Ronny Turiaf, who has sat out all but two games this season due to a lingering hip injury, will undergo surgery his right hip Tuesday in New York. Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said there is no timetable for Turiaf’s return. … Timberwolves G Mo Williams missed his sixth consecutive game with back spasms. … Shortly after surpassing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, Lakers G Kobe Bryant was honored by the Timberwolves with a short video montage. … After starting the first 23 games of the season, Lakers G Jeremy Lin has come off the bench in four consecutive games. Prior to the game, Los Angeles coach Byron Scott said he was satisfied with his rotation since replacing Lin in the starting lineup with Ronnie Price last week.