All three point guards out of commission – how much worse could it get, right?
How about Kobe Bryant coming in for six games, and then having to be sidelined for another six weeks due to a knee injury?
The hits just keep on coming to this Laker team, don’t they? Thankfully, as they’ve shown quite a few times in this early season – they’ve got some fight in them despite the arrows that keep flying their way. After getting thumped by the Minnesota Timberwolves in their last meeting, the Lakers showed their opponent at the onset that there would be no 40+ point quarters this time.
The Lakers opened their first two defensive possessions with stops, shot 68% and led by 11 points early in the first quarter. Save for a relatively weak showing in the second quarter, they kept the game close and threw a final punch in the end – a 104-91 victory.
Defense – The Timberwolves were blocked in consecutive possessions to open the game, courtesy of Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. They were kept under a 40% field goal percentage in every quarter, and finished with just 35% shooting for the game. Kevin Love had 20 points in the first half, but was kept to just five points in the entire second half. Scoring machine Kevin Martin went just 6-16 for his 14 points, and he scored 10 of those in the first half. The Lakers also had nine blocks, with Gasol, Kaman and Sacre getting a pair each. Defensive efforts (except maybe in the second quarter and under the Offensive Rebounds column) was key to tonight’s win, especially since it was a collective effort. Guys were rotating effectively, covering for each other, running shooters off the three-point line (where Minny went just 5-22). In the final quarter, the Lakers really locked down on their D, allowing Minnesota to shoot just 6-25 from the field for 24%, allowing just 15 points in the final 12 minutes. It’s the most sustained defense the Lakers have shown in a long time.
Ball Movement – 27 assists for the Lakers led by Pau Gasol’s. Xavier Henry may have started the game as the “official” point guard, but his four assists were eclipsed by Gasol’s eight dimes. The first half saw 16 assists on 21 made field goals. Four players scored in double figures.
Pau Gasol – It was an almost-triple-double for the Spaniard who, in a practice interview earlier in the day, sounded down talking about the injury to Bryant. Gasol looked resolved early in the game, however, playing how we remember him playing in those back-to-back championship seasons. He’s had more than enough chances to lead this team in the absence of so many teammates, and he has faltered more often than not. In having Bryant go out of commission again, there was a fear that Gasol may revert back to his inability to lead this team. Tonight, however, he did everything. He was aggressive on all fronts, scoring 21 points on 10-15 from the field, grabbing 13 rebounds, handing out eight assists and blocking two shots. His only black mark came in the form of seven turnovers, but without Bryant, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake as the primary ball handlers, Gasol will surely take the lead. Being one of the best passing big men in the league will come in handy for his team.
Xavier Henry – Talk about going from obscurity to starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers! To think that in the pre-season, Henry’s place on the roster was even a question, and now he’s being thrown into a prominent position with all the faith in the world from his coaches and teammates to succeed. Henry wasn’t exactly Nash out there, dishing every which way. In fact, he only had four assists. He did, however, score 21 points on 8-19 from the field, grabbed four rebounds, racked up three steals and only had three turnovers.
Nick Young – Is there a player more fun to watch on this squad than SwaggyP? Every shot he makes, whether a run of the mill jumper, layup or three, gets the crowd and his teammates on their feet. 25 points on 9-14 was a huge contribution to tonight’s win, but Young’s value to this team is more than his production. The great chemistry among this group of players has been mentioned time and again this season; and you can see the perfect example of it in Young. The fun moment he shared with Gasol after the center hit that corner three is an image that encapsulates his role in the locker room. It’s reminiscent of Metta World Peace’s carefree personality and amicability, and in a sense, Lamar Odom’s. It’s not hard to see that SwaggyP is becoming the heart of this down-but-not-out Laker team.
Points In the Paint – It was a small margin, just 50 to the T-wolves’ 46, but that the Lakers even had that many is a plus. They also only attempted 19 threes, which is a number they could rack up in one half. Tonight the Lakers really made an effort to get to higher percentage shots, which aided in them shooting 54% for the game.
Turnovers – The Lakers had just three turnovers in the first quarter, which didn’t lead to any T-wolves points. It was an efficiently-run quarter with 12 assists on 14 made field goals. But the second quarter was a hot mess, with 10 turnovers that turned into eight points for Minnesota and a pathetic 27-16 quarter score that quickly erased a once-11 point lead. It’s no coincidence that without Gasol on the floor for the first four minutes of that quarter, the Lakers lost their ball movement. They had just four assists in the entire 12 minutes.
Rebounds – Offensive boards haven’t been a priority this season, with the preference to run back on defense asap. The Lakers only had seven offensive rebounds tonight. However, allowing the opposing team to grab 22 offensive rebounds of their own is unacceptable. That alone gave Minnesota 20 second chance points.
Lead Maintenance – They just can’t help themselves, toying with fate when fate has given them an early lead. It’s almost pointless for the Lakers to get ahead so early in the game when they’re so adept at losing it just as quickly.
With the number of injuries that this team has been faced with, it would be easy to just give up, lay down and get run over, even so early in the season. But the Lakers started the season as underdogs and they seem to be relishing it. They’ll be short-handed for a long while, even with the newly acquired Kendall Marshall to fill in at the point when his time comes, but if they play again like they did tonight, it’s hard to count them out just yet.