The Lakers have now beaten the Minnesota Timberwolves in 21 straight games, which is the most dominant one NBA team has been over another. With the team’s stars, Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, and most recently, Nikola Pekovic (who left in the first quarter and didn’t return) leaving them shorthanded, the Lakers had to take advantage of their opponents’ disadvantages. With the season winding down, and the Lakers still trying to claw their way into that final seed in the Western Conference, every win is a big one no matter which team is on the schedule. They can’t control how the teams above them perform, but they can help themselves by preventing any more losing streaks. At 5-1 since the All-Star break, they’re on the right track so far.
Metta World Peace opened the game with a three pointer, foreshadowing a storm of threes to come. The Lakers had one of their best shooting nights from behind the arc, and Kobe Bryant led the way offensively with a dunk contest all his own. Dwight Howard led the way defensively, meeting every penetration by the likes of Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea with bated breath before pouncing on most every shot attempt that came near the hoop. The bench was also key, helping up the lead to as much as 25 points, and anchoring to secure the 116-94 victory.
Kobe Bryant – Father Time called. He told Kobe to party on, and that he did. Two one-handed dunks, which would have been three if he hadn’t missed the third attempt. Fortunately, he rebounded his own miss and scored on a layup anyway. 33 points on 13-22 from the field, 4-8 from downtown, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Bench Mobbin’ – Leading the reserves tonight was Steve Blake, whose return has regulated the Lakers’ rotation and thereby stabilized the playing time of his pine fellows. After missing more than half the season with a rib injury, Blake came back looking as confident and comfortable as he’s ever been since donning the purple and gold jersey. Coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned wanting to work with Blake for years and we can see why. Blake has been a solid back-up for Steve Nash, and not just on the offensive end. He has always been a scrappy, fiery player, unafraid to take on any defensive assignment. Tonight he put in a good amount of work – 13 points on 4-6 from the field, 3-5 from downtown, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out six assists, and in 25 minutes of play, didn’t commit a single turnover. Antawn Jamison – Chipping in double-digit scoring in the last few weeks, Antawn Jamison is averaging 15.9 ppg in the past seven games. That is consistency. Jamison always seems to be in the right place at the right time, ready to meet a bounce pass from Blake on his way to the hoop, ready to receive a pass from Bryant for a baseline lay-in, ready to grab the offensive board from a teammate’s miss and ready to catch a pass from behind the arc for a three. This readiness is Jamison’s trump card. There were stretches this season where he was buried at the end of the bench, but when his number came up, he wasn’t just ready to play. He was ready to put in the effort to play well. Tonight he had another efficient night, with 17 points on 7-11 from the field, including 2-4 from three and he grabbed eight rebounds. Jodie Meeks, who was 0-3 in the first half, went 5-8 in the second half, rattling off 4-6 from behind the arc. 16 huge points from Meeks tonight. Including the players who came off the bench when the victory was sealed, the reserves’ collective line reads as follows: 52 points on 58% from the field, 23 rebounds and 11 assists.
Downtown Dominance – What a difference the three makes. The Lakers went 16-32 from behind the arc tonight, with six players chipping in their three points. It was one three pointer shy of meeting their high for the season of 17 against the Denver Nuggets, so many months ago. 48 of the Lakers’ 116 points came from downtown. Who would’ve thunk?
Defense – Dwight Howard didn’t have a huge offensive night, just 11 points on 5-6, but his 13 rebounds, steal, four blocks and presence in every lane that led to the Minnesota basket were his key contributions, and if he were to put in this type of effort in every game, the Lakers would be a completely different team.
Free throws – 12-21 from the charity stripe, and Howard was not the only one to blame. A typically competent free throw shooter, Bryant went just 3-7 from the line tonight.
Metta World Peace – When the year began, the Lakers relied on MWP’s offense, but lately, he hasn’t been able to retain his touch. He chipped in two three pointers tonight, but was 2-7 from the field for the game.
It was a game that the Lakers were favored to win, and win they did in dominating fashion. They led by 16 points after three quarters, and instead of falling apart like they did in the last meeting in Minnesota (where they lost a 28-point lead and had to scramble to eke out a win), they stayed the course and won easily in the end. Neither Kobe Bryant nor Steve Nash played a second of the fourth quarter, and D’Antoni emptied his bench. Next up are the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.