…And we’re not talking about the weather. Boy were the Lakers cold on the court tonight. They didn’t attempt their first shot until almost two minutes into the game, and didn’t hit their first field goal until almost three minutes after that, and that was on their SEVENTH attempt. They managed to hit just five shots in 22 tries in the first quarter and finished with a measly 30% shooting after 24 minutes. Awful. Awful. Awful.
Tonight was nothing like their last visit in November, when Matt Barnes played a perfect game; going 7-7 from the field, 5-5 from behind the arc, and 5-5 from the free throw line. There was no Barnes on the court today, and there were certainly no signs of perfection. Nonetheless, the Lakers found a way to win. Like they’ve learned on a few occasions this season, when the offense isn’t flowing, then get your defense going, and that’s exactly how they managed their fifth straight victory.
At the top of the scouting report for the Timberwolves was Kevin “Mr. Double-Double” Love. In a win over the Golden State Warriors this past Sunday, Love went for 37 points and 23 rebounds. There is no doubt who the head of the snake in Minnesota is, and just like they did in their last win over this team, the Lakers’ target was clear. Behead the reptile and leave with a win. In their last meeting, Love was held to zero points on 0-7 from the field and a very pedestrian seven rebounds. Tonight he still got his double-double, with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but it took 2-10 shooting and 9-10 free throws to get there. Phil Jackson noted in his post-game interview that their plan was to close in on Love, and not allow him any space to shoot. With Love limited, opportunities opened up for rookie, Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley to take over, but it just wasn’t enough.
The Lakers’ second half defense has been a real jewel the last two games. They held the Thunder to just 31 points in the last 24 minutes on Sunday, and tonight, held the Timberwolves to just 34 points in the second half. After shooting 46% before the half-time break, the home team finished with just 40% shooting for the game.
And then there’s the battle on the glass. Minnesota is the league leader in rebounds with 45.3 rpg. The Lakers, fourth in the NBA with 40.5 rpg, outrebounded the Timberwolves 53-39. Leading the way on the boards was Pau Gasol who pulled 17 rebounds. He might’ve had a poor night offensively, shooting just 3-10 from the field for his 13 points, but he was active out there. 12 of those 17 rebounds were on the defensive end, preventing the T-Wolves from second chance points.
Other than Steve Blake who shot 1-2 from the field, the only Laker who attempted more than a pair of shots and still managed a 50% FG percentage was Andrew Bynum. The center shot 5-10 and hit all four of his free throw attempts for his 14 points. He also had seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks. What has been so impressive about Bynum on this latest winning streak is his activity on the floor. He’s gunning for offensive rebounds, fighting for defensive boards, tipping in missed shots and contesting others. He’s also become much more mindful of his teammates on the court. Tonight he received the ball in the key and was quickly doubled. He swiftly handed the ball to Shannon Brown who hit a three-pointer that gave the Lakers their largest lead of the game up to that point. Two possessions later, he was met with the same defense, and this time he passed to an open Lamar Odom who hit a jumper to give the Lakers their first double-digit lead. I’d say the Bynum over Anthony non-trade has been a success so far.
Kobe Bryant pitched in 24 points on 8-18 and Lamar Odom came off the bench for another double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds. Every Laker who saw floor time scored and got their hands on at least one rebound.
Up next for the Lakers are the dreaded Charlotte Bobcats. In his post-game interview, Shannon Brown told John Ireland that the Bobcats did a lot of talking when the last two teams met. The Lakers have payback on their minds for Brown’s former team, which is a good sign already. In the meantime, the defending champs have a five-game winning streak to build on.
Pre-game Thoughts: Is this a trap game? Yes, it certainly is. Coming into Minnesota with a 4-game winning streak, and those pesky Bobcats to play on Friday, this is the epitome of a trap game. The Lakers need to resist the temptation to lull themselves into win. Kevin Love just had a 37 and 23 kind of game, and there is no way the streak will become five if they fall asleep on his watch.
Half-time Thoughts: 40-45 – Talk about a rhythm less game! The Lakers shot just 5-22 in the first quarter (though the Timberwolves weren’t much better going 8-22) and finished the half shooting an abysmal 30% from the field. Wolf, Wesley Johnson leads all scores with 12 points on 5-9. Andrew Bynum leads the Lakers with 10 points on 4-8 and Pau Gasol, despite attempting just four shots and making two, already has 11 rebounds. The Lakers need to pick up their offense in the second half. Get it to the inside man. Bynum and Gasol should be showered with touches in the next two quarters. Darko Milicic is no Dwight Howard on defense.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lakers ball movement – as in there was none. They shot just 38% for the game and the mere 12 assists on 30 attempts is a good indication of why that shooting percentage was such a travesty. Minnesota did a good job packing the inside and closing off passing lanes into the paint, causing the ball handler to hold on to the rock much too long, which cut too close into the end of each shot clock. The ball has got to move!
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – The four turnovers the single digit rebounds aside, he was a large part of the reason the Lakers had any offense at all. Whether it was his offensive rebounds that led to second chance points, or his decision-making when the ball did make it inside, Bynum has turned into more than just a big man in the middle. He’s becoming a more thoughtful type of player.