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Love leads Timberwolves with 31 and 17 in 109-99 win over Lakers, who lose 7th in a row

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MINNEAPOLIS - Kevin Love landed hard on his hip after a foul late in the game. His head snapped back from the impact and hit the floor.

The All-Star power forward was all right afterward, a relief for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The win over the languishing Los Angeles Lakers was nice, too.

Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves to 109-99 victory on Tuesday that spoiled Steve Nash's return and stuck the Lakers with their seventh straight defeat.

"I just want to continue to keep playing and give this team all that I can," Love said. "Yeah, I've taken a physical beating, but you've got to expect being one of the top guys that they're going to come at you."

Kevin Martin helped the Timberwolves get off to a fast start, scoring 14 of his season-high-tying 32 points in the opening 10 minutes as the NBA's highest-scoring first-quarter team surged to a 25-point lead midway through the second period. They stumbled some after halftime, letting the Lakers pull within seven points early in the fourth quarter.

"It's just one of those things where the game isn't going to be as easy as you think," coach Rick Adelman said. "You just have to persevere."

With Nikola Pekovic likely out through the All-Star break, the Wolves started a difficult week, a theme of Adelman's pregame message. They play at Oklahoma City on Wednesday and New Orleans on Friday before hosting Portland on Saturday, a crucial stretch for a team running out of time to climb back into the playoff picture.

But Love picked up the Wolves and carried them to an important win, playing the part of the burly Pekovic by throwing his body at the basket as often as he could. He made it to the line for 18 free throws, making 13.

"We realize how good he is. He has incredible toughness," Martin said, adding: "He gets dirty down there. That's why we pay him the big bucks and that's why he's an All-Star starter, to do things like that."

Nash had been sidelined since Nov. 10 because of nerve problems in his back. The soon-to-be-40-year-old two-time league MVP had seven points and nine assists in 25 minutes, about 10 more than he was supposed to play.

"I feel a bit selfish in that we lost but it felt great just to play in the NBA again," Nash said, smiling. "Obviously the game didn't go as we hoped, but for me personally that's pretty cool to be back out there."

Coach Mike D'Antoni was pleased.

"I thought he competed, and we've got to have everybody compete that way," D'Antoni said.

Steve Blake also returned, coming back from a torn ligament in his right elbow that had shelved him since Dec. 10. He ruptured his eardrum during the game but kept playing on another night of bad luck and bad defence for the fallen franchise. Blake was scoreless in 31 minutes and took only two shots.

Fittingly, as soon as two guys came back, two more went out.

Jodie Meeks (sprained right ankle, first quarter) and backup Jordan Hill (headache and neck strain, first quarter) were hurt for the Lakers, who have been without star Kobe Bryant for most of the season. Pau Gasol also sat out with a strained right groin and could be out until after the All-Star break.

D'Antoni said Meeks won't play the rest of the road trip at Cleveland on Wednesday or at Philadelphia on Friday. Hill was walking stiffly in the locker room after the game but was held out as a precaution, the coach said.

"I just feel for those guys. I just was in their position," Blake said. "Unfortunately it's a part of the game, and the rest of us have to pick it up."

The Lakers' reserves had a whopping 70 points, with Nick Young (24 points), Manny Harris (19 points) and former Timberwolves first-round draft pick Wes Johnson (15 points and nine rebounds) leading the way. But the Lakers still lost for the 19th time in their last 22 games and fell into a tie for last place in the Western Conference with Utah and Sacramento.

This was also their first loss at Target Center in almost seven years, ending an 11-game run.

NOTES: This was the league-high seventh time this season that Love had at least 30 points and 15 rebounds. He has 25 for his career, one more than Kevin Garnett on the franchise's career list. ... The Lakers have allowed 100-plus points in 15 straight games, their longest such streak since 17 in a row during the 1986-87 season.

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