In a second straight night at the Staples Center, the Timberwolves experienced a completely different result than the night before as they got blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers 104-85, which makes it 17 consecutive losses to the Lakers spanning over the last 5 years. The Timberpups were without Kevin Love tonight as he sat out with the flu, and Kobe Bryant led the way for the Lakers with 31 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, despite being a game-time decision.
The Lakers improved to 15-2 at the Staples Center this year, despite also possessing a 6-12 road record. I have one proposition for the incredible discrepancy between home wins and road wins for the Lakers this season: hometown officiating. It is no secret that in Los Angeles the Lakers get more than their fair share of calls, and let us just say that some of the calls made for Kobe will never be called for a player sporting a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.
Kevin Love suffered a rib contusion in the second half against the Clippers last night, but sat out tonight with flu-like symptoms. After suffering a broken nose, concussion, and neck injury in the All-Star game this past weekend, Kobe Bryant passed league-mandated concussion tests before the game and exerted his excellence on the Wolves, which has been tradition throughout his career.
In the first half, the Lakers out-shot the Timberwolves as a team 54% to 41% and led 50-44. The Lakers established themselves down low and flowed their offense through Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. In K-Love’s absence, Derrick Williams played solid defense on Gasol, holding him to only 4 first half points. Bynum, on the other hand, had his way with both Nikola Pekovic and Darko Milicic, and the T-Wolves seemed to have no solution for him. To try to shut down Bynum, head coach Rick Adelman switched to a 2-3 defense, but Steve Blake and Matt Barnes hit 3 of 5 three-pointers almost immediately after the defensive switch, and the Lakers headed into halftime with a 6 point lead.
The second half was a different story, and from the beginning of the third quarter on the Lakers completely controlled the tempo of the game, and their strong defensive effort kept Minnesota out of rhythm throughout the remainder of the contest. The loss of K-Love was a critical one, and the Lakers outrebounded the Pups 48-44. Andrew Bynum had an excellent night, recording a double-double with 13 points on 6-9 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Pekovic was unable to hang with Bynum tonight, but few centers in the NBA are able to do much on the imposing 7’0”, 285 lb beast.
Ricky Rubio had a nearly identical game to last night’s performance against the Clippers, as he once again shot a miserable 1-8 from the field but dished out 9 assists and recorded 2 steals. The Lakers defensive scheming was excellent tonight and they obviously did their homework on Tricky Ricky, causing him to take long midrange jump-shots that Rubio has had a very tough time hitting this season. Ricky’s shooting has really cooled off since the first month of the season, and improving his shooting percentage is going to be the biggest adjustment for him as he moves forward in his NBA career. JJ Barea was only able to play 7 minutes tonight as he sustained a right calf strain that may potentially keep him out of tomorrow night’s game at Phoenix.
Getting a rare start at PF, Derrick Williams played a solid 23 minutes of basketball and scored 10 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Williams was at a serious height disadvantage guarding the 7’0” Pau Gasol, and the fact of the matter is that the Timberwolves are going to have a very hard time beating teams with two versatile 7 footers in their starting lineup. Although the Lakers are a shadow of the team they had a few years back, they still possess a very skilled and mature team of veteran play makers that specialize in beating young, immature teams such as the Wolves.
After having a spectacular night against the Clippers, Michael Beasley played very marginally and scored 14 points on 6-13 shooting, while grabbing 6 rebounds. Beasley made some nice moves tonight, but the Pups’ inability to flow their offense through the post made it much harder on perimeter players to get open looks and to get space in the lane to drive. Big Pek scored 10 points on 5-11 shooting and grabbed 7 boards, but his below-average defense tonight contributed to the Lakers interior domination throughout the game.
One of the Pups only positives tonight came from Martell Webster, who netted 14 points on 5-7 shooting off the bench and played solid defense, but he alone was not able to turn the tide for the T-Wolves.
This was a tough night for the Wolves and a game that they need to learn from. Obviously, the loss of Kevin Love is tough to overcome in a matchup against an imposing Lakers frontcourt, but all of the Timberwolves frontcourt defenders desperately need to improve their post defense.
Key Player: Kobe Bryant played through a broken nose (while sporting a Rip Hamilton-esque facemask), a mild concussion, and a neck injury to go on to nearly record a triple-double. No game is easy when Kobe Bryant is on the opposing team and Kobe showed the Pups why he is one of the best players in NBA history.
Key Stat: 8 blocks by the Lakers as a team compared to only 1 for the Timberwolves. Shot blocking continues to be a glaring need for the Pups and they really lack a true defensive stopper in their interior.