It’s a little more than pitiful that the Lakers just experienced their second win on the road this season in their ninth try. They also lost a large double-digit lead in the second half and had to hustle in the last quarter to pull out the victory. But as the old adage goes, a win is a win, especially on the road. If only they didn’t make it so hard to come by.
On the second game of a back-to-back, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had the Lakers’ energy and efficiency plummeted more so than they did against the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in this same position last night, but the Lakers were aggressive early on, led by the play of Pau Gasol. Gasol was on fire to start the game, hitting his first four shots before throwing up a miss. Against one of the hardest working players in the league, Kevin Love, and at times against the relatively less-skilled Nikola Pekovic, Gasol got what he wanted when he wanted it, and Andrew Bynum followed suit.
After a three-pointer by Kobe Bryant in the third quarter, the Lakers sat on a 77-60 lead, but in the final four minutes, the Minnesota Timberwolves surged through and managed to cut the lead to just five going into the fourth. The Wolves only shot 39% in the third, but the Lakers, after a 54% shooting first half, managed to shoot even worse, converting just eight field goals in 21 attempts for 38%.
Minnesota took the lead for the first time more than halfway through the fourth quarter after Michael Beasley tipped in a missed shot. It looked like the Lakers were setting up for another loss, but they came through in the end to secure the victory.
Big Three Play Big – It’s no surprise that the biggest of the big three was Kobe Bryant. After being the only player in last night’s game who came prepared to play, he came up huge again tonight, and not just by scoring in bunches. Bryant had 13 points after the first half, and then went off for another 13 in the third and then put up nine points in the fourth. He went 14-29 from the field, including 5-9 from behind the arc for his 35 points. Of all the shots giving Bryant trouble from that wrist injury, his three-pointer seemed to take suffer most, but he’s shown improvement of late, and tonight’s 15 points from downtown are evidence of that. He also led the game with 14 rebounds, handed out a pair of assists and blocked two shots. Asked about his big night on the glass, Bryant replied simply that he knew they needed to do more work on the boards and just took it upon himself to make the extra effort. The Lakers were outboarded 52-41 tonight, but Bryant surely did his part. Add to that another milestone, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most field goals made in Lakers franchise history and you’ve got some icing on the victory cake.
Pau Gasol has to stop playing this “aggressive one game, passive in the next” act because this team will continue to go through these up and down games if he doesn’t find some consistency. The man can score at will if he played as he did tonight and a few nights ago against the Clippers. He was 11-15 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line for his 28 points, and the shots came from his wide arsenal of offensive threats – running hook shots, mid-range jumpers, long jumpers, etc. For all that Love and Pekovic did to stop him, he went ahead and scored anyway because he played so deliberately in this game. There was no uncertainty in his shot-making and with Gasol, that attitude from the on-set is the key. When he imposes his offense on his defenders, as he did tonight, he’s unstoppable. His six rebounds (SIX!) were the only downside of his stat line. Seven footers have no business finishing with single digit rebounds – none.
Andrew Bynum (despite his low-rebounding evening) had just as big of a night offensively as Gasol. He shot 8-14 from the field and hit 5-7 from the free throw line (it’s getting better) for his 21 points. When the Timberwolves took the lead in the fourth quarter, Bynum scored on two dunks late in the game to help seal the victory.
Some Bench Help – It doesn’t compare to Minnesota’s 42 points of the bench, but Troy Murphy and Andrew Goudelock chipped in what they could in the limited minutes they played, including hitting three of the eight three-pointers that the Lakers managed to convert. The starters played heavy minutes tonight, but without the true leader of the reserves, Steve Blake, in the line-up, Mike Brown is doing the best with what he’s got, and Goudelock, especially of late, has been a welcome surprise.
Three-Point Shooting – 8-19 from behind the arc for 42%. Considering how they’ve shot from that distance, 42% is excellent. The three has been one of the Lakers’ downfalls so far in this season, and might have even saved them from some past losses, but if they can shoot at this percentage moving forward (obviously not falling in love with the three since they’ve got a very able inside game), they could add something to their offense.
Offense – And speaking of their offense, the Lakers finally scored over 100 points! Break out the bubbly – it’s been 13 games of this sub-100 nonsense. Before this season, their offense was the least of the Lakers’ worries, but systems were revised and personnel changes were made, so hiccups in the offense couldn’t be avoided. It had just gotten so ugly. They would go for long stretches without scoring, no matter who was on the floor. The offense has looked disjointed at times, but today they shot 51% from the field and had some nice ball movement (19 assists on 40 made shots).
No rebounds, no rings – Well it’s a good thing this isn’t true based on tonight’s game, otherwise the Minnesota Timberwolves would be shining up their bling. The Lakers were outrebounded 52-41, but it is the offensive rebounding column that is the most disappointing. The Lakers allowed the Wolves 24 offensive rebounds, which led to over 30 second chance points. The Lakers only had seven offensive rebounds themselves, which says a lot about who exactly was working harder. Before the game, Pau Gasol was interviewed and he said that a win would depend on who wanted it more. Rebounding is always a good measure of effort, and the Lakers are fortunate that they won anyway, despite the Wolves appearing to want it more late in the game.
Lost lead – This isn’t new for the Lakers. It is, in fact, almost a given that when they build up a large lead, they are more likely to lose it than to extend it and tonight was more evidence of that. With a 77-60 lead late in the third, the Lakers scored just two more points on Matt Barnes’ tip-in for the rest of the quarter. In the four minutes before the final 12, the Lakers gave up 14 points to the Wolves. Then they fell behind for a few possessions and had to claw their way to a victory before the final buzzer.
As much as the critics have ruled them out of contention, there really is some fight left in this Laker team – they just have to start playing like they’ve done it before, like they’ve won championships before, like they’ve exploited opposing teams’ defenses before. It’s not too late. They still have time to pull a string of solid victories together. Let’s just hope it’s sooner than later.