Kobe Bryant’s arms lay on the backs of the seats on either side of him as the final minutes of the fourth quarter waned. Matt Barnes sat on his right, elbows resting on his knees and a towel wrapped around his back. Both looked on, the end of their 3-game road trip coming to a perfect 3-0 close. A season ago, such an image would’ve been impossible to imagine, with the latter faking an inbounds pass in the face of the former. This season, however, it’s as if the incident never happened.
On a night where he shot just 8-27 from the field, Bryant scarcely appeared frustrated or anxious. Maybe it’s because he’s not concerned about his stats. Maybe it’s because he knew that despite shooting so poorly, if it came down to it, he would hit that game winner if need be. Or maybe, Bryant was reminded again, that he no longer works alone. He not only has one or two superstar teammates to compensate for a bad shooting night, he’s got a whole bunch, and tonight, Barnes offered one of his best games as Bryant’s new teammate.
The Timberwolves, despite a losing record, have been riding high on whatever cause will let them – Kevin Love’s monster rebounding ability, Michael Beasley’s recent game winner, a nothing-to-lose-so-why-not-just-play-hard attitude. And considering how close they were to defeating the defending champions on the road, tonight’s rematch on their own home floor provided a chance at redemption…if only those complacent Lakers would show up again.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Lakers on this road trip have been anything but passive and tonight would be no exception. A key item on the Lakers’ to-do list was to control Kevin Love and control they did, keeping the former UCLA Bruin to 0-7 from the field, zero free throw attempts, and single digit rebounds (7). There would be no repeat of Love’s 31-31 game, at least not on the Lakers’ watch.
Michael Beasley showed much more fight for his 25 points, though he shot just 9-22 from the field and was forced into a game high six turnovers.
No, the team that Minnesota faced a week and a half ago was not at Target Center today. The L.A. Lakers team that came to play was much more focused, rebounding just as well as their opponents with their 46 boards to the Timberwolves’ 47. They handed out 30 assists on 40 made field goals and converted on 10 of 19 from behind the arc (53%). They also had 10 steals, with Derek Fisher leading the way with four snatches.
The Lakers team that came to play today had six players in double figures, and their bench outscored the home team’s reserves 45-34.
Yes, there were Kobe Bryant miraculous makes to note (one up and under from beneath the basket comes to mind). And yes, the Timberwolves made a few runs at the lead with hopes of keeping it competitive, but in the end the defending champions just played like defending champions, and when they play as such, they’re just too much for any team to beat.
Leading the way for tonight’s victory were two warriors whose names are not Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom. This game’s heroes were Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes. Fisher, whose age (36), is noted by commentators each time they mention his name, as if to insist on his “decline”, has been, and always will be, the quiet hero on this Lakers team. Sometimes his presence on the court is hardly noticed until he makes that big shot and tonight he hit two big ones – one to give the Lakers an early 11-point lead in the second quarter, and then another after Minnesota’s 11-0 run. He was 5-5 for the night, hitting both three-point attempts. Fisher is second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage with 60%!
And then there was Matt Barnes. In just under 24 minutes of burn, he shot 7-7 from the field, converted on all five of his three-point attempts, was a seamless 5-5 from the charity stripe and, just for the sake of having a well-rounded game, collected seven rebounds, passed out six assists and managed to swipe a pair of steals. All this and ZERO TURNOVERS.
The Lakers are now 3-0 since dropping two to Denver and Phoenix and head home to play the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. Just like that, a new winning streak has begun.
Pre-game Thoughts: A 3-0 road trip would be a great success, but the last time the Lakers met ‘sota’s squad, they were in the comforts of home and they played like it. Hopefully, the last two victories against “lesser” competition has paved the way for tonight’s game.
Half-time Thoughts: 51-41 – The Lakers are shooting just 43%, but the Wolves are no better shooting just 38%. Leading the way with 13 points and six rebounds is Kobe Bryant, though he’s shooting just 5-15 from the field. With just a 10-point lead, this is still a game.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: The Timberwolves for attempting 26 three-pointers and only converting 6 for 23%!
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Matt Barnes, and it’s not even close – 24 points on 7-7, 5-5 from 3PT, seven rebounds, six assists, a pair of steals and a whopping +27. Talk about perfection! (To be fair, Lamar Odom was a +26, but he didn’t shoot 100% from the field.) Derek Fisher deserves an honorable mention for also shooting 100%, 5-5 from the field and 2-2 from 3PT.