Andrew Bynum, slammed his body into Minnesota’s Michael Beasley as he drove to the hoop. Beasley hit the ground so hard he bounced. Moments later, Kobe Bryant was called for a reach-in foul, and in the process was knocked in the jaw so hard by Martell Webster that he, too, fell to the floor. Neither situation turned into an altercation, and no players on either bench even winced or made a motion to stand when everything occurred. But with the game as close as it was, Bynum’s thoughtless act could have had negative implications…like a loss. Fortunately, Beasley was able to walk away and as far as the Lakers are concerned, their veterans took over late in the game and before we knew it, the Staples Center faithful were cheering for their free tacos.
As it was in their last meeting in Minnesota, the Lakers could not (or maybe opted to not) get their offense flowing properly at the onset. In the first quarter, they shot just 37% from the field with Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest going 0-10, and Wesley Johnson (29 points on 11-21) going on a scoring tear that lasted practically all game long. In addition to the horrid shooting, the Lakers were getting outworked on the glass by the T-Wolves, and Mr. Double-Double, Kevin Love, seemed to arrive at every rebound before any player in a gold jersey did.
By halftime, the Lakers managed to arrive at a more (relatively speaking) respectable 44% shooting, riding the hot hand of Pau Gasol who had 15 points and four blocks by the break, en route to his 25 points on 12-17 from the field for the game. Unfortunately, he also had five turnovers and collected just five rebounds. Gasol’s passing abilities are one of his strengths, but tonight he turned almost every pass into a turnover. And ever since Bynum’s emergence and activity on the glass, Gasol’s rebounding totals in the last few games have come very short of his 10.2 rpg average. Hopefully, even though his fellow 7-footer has been manning the boards, Gasol remembers that he, too, is an exceptional rebounder himself…when he tries.
Before his ejection, Andrew Bynum did accomplish some good on the floor. He had 10 points on 4-8, collected 14 rebounds and blocked two shots. For all the praise he’s received for embracing his role as a defensive anchor, and for being commended for his development and maturity, he sure picked a fine time to get a flagrant-2 for knocking Michael Beasley to the ground. Whether he really was planning to go for a block but wasn’t in proper position, or it was an act of frustration for calls from which he felt he should have benefitted is irrelevant. He was suspended in 2009 for a similar act that sent Gerald Wallace directly to the hospital and simply should have known better. Beasley was well enough to shoot free throws after the foul, but suddenly started limping and was later diagnosed with a bruised hip. A suspension for Bynum wouldn’t be surprising.
Kobe Bryant did not participate in practice this week and it showed. He finished with 18 points on 6-17, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. He doesn’t appear to be limping and he sprinted up and down the court with ease (at least it looked that way to me). Bryant did shoot back-to-back three pointers to end the first half, and towards the end of the game, with the T-Wolves continuing to nip at the Lakers, he hit a leaning jumper, then a free throw to give the Lakers a 101-94 lead.
The players who stood out today, however, were the Laker reserves. Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown combined for 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. With the game feeling as stagnant as could be, it was the reserves who breathed life onto the court.
In the end it just wasn’t the prettiest of Laker games, but they got what they wanted – a victory. With Dallas falling to the Spurs tonight, the Lakers have now taken over sole ownership of the second seed in the western Conference. Next up is Portland, with the newly acquired Gerald Wallace and a limping Brandon Roy. The Lakers will be ready…
Pre-game Thoughts: Will the Lakers be energized from the 3 days off or will they look sluggish from the short respite from game?
Half-time Thoughts: 51-49: It’s obvious which team at Staples is gunning for this win and it’s not the guys dressed in yellow. The Minnesota Timberwolves, led by Wesley Johnson’s 17 points and Kevin Love’s 11 rebounds, are shooting the same percentage from the field as the Lakers (44%), but they’re out-energizing the defending champs. The Wolves have already turned the ball over 11 times, but the Lakers are just as bad with 8 giveaways. Bryant is just 2-8 from the field, but Pau Gasol’s got 15 points on 7-10, not to mention four blocks, and Andrew Bynum has 10 points and 8 rebounds. The Lakers need to dampen this young team’s spirits because Love’s already got his double-double and they’ve got some glass work to do, getting outrebounded 27-21.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – After all the accolades due to his efficient play of late and what seemed like his maturity developing, he showed a lot of immaturity tonight; pouting after calls didn’t go his way and then ramming his body into Michael Beasley with absolutely no intentions to stop the ball. Now, before a big game against a resurging Portland team, Bynum could be suspended for his thoughtless play.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Laker Bench – The reserves have been looking like their old selves lately. The Killer B’s are producing and Lamar Odom’s still his poised self in the waning moments of the game. With the post-season looming, it cannot be stressed enough how dependable the bench needs to be in order to put the Lakers in a greater position to threepeat.