The Target Center held it’s collective breath as their hero Ricky Rubio lay squirming on the ground after bumping knees with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Unable to put any weight on the knee, Ricky was carried off of the floor by teammates Martell Webster and Derrick Williams in yet another ominous site for a Minnesota sports star. With only 16.4 remaining, the loss of Rubio sucked the life out of the Target Center and the T-Wolves likewise fell to the Lakers for the 18th consecutive time, losing 105-102.
The Timberpups were already shorthanded as Kevin Love was forced to sit out due to back spasms. In his place, Derrick Williams played well, scoring 22 points on 9-19 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds. The 6’8” rookie out of Arizona had a tough time matching up against 7’0” Pau Gasol, and the Lakers continue to exploit their size advantage against a smaller Wolves team. D-Will played a season-high 43 minutes and was called upon to really step up in K-Love’s absence. Returning from a sore foot, Nikola Pekovic played a great game despite having his hands full with Andrew Bynum. In 40 minutes, Pekovic scored 25 points on 8-14 shooting from the field and brought down 13 rebounds. Tyrannosaurus Pek thrived on the pick-and-roll with Rubio and was able to finish amongst the very big defenders that the Lakers frontcourt boasts. Backing up Pek was Darko Milicic, but he recorded only 8 minutes and scored 2 points.
Continuing his hot shooting, Wes Johnson had himself a very solid game on both ends of the floor. Although he only played 25 minutes, Wes was on his game and played lock down defense, recording 3 blocks and 4 steals. Johnson was one of only three Timberwolves players to have a positive +/- (+1) and scored 11 points on 4-8 shooting, including 3-5 from three-point range. I am not one to criticize a great coach in Rick Adelman, but it really confuses me why he did not turn to Wes in the fourth quarter. Wes was a spark on offense and caused many Lakers turnovers on defense, and he played excellently when playing on ball and when coming from the weak side to help. Since the All-Star break, Wes has found new confidence in his shot and it positively affecting the rest of his game. If the Pups are going to continue their pursuit of a playoff seed, Wes is going to need to continue to play well and provide on both ends of the court.
Luke Ridnour saved his best shooting for the 4th quarter, hitting two key three-pointers that gave the T-Wolves a one point advantage after each hit. However, the Timberwolves were unable to hold on and Ridnour’s late heroics were not enough. In 39 minutes, Ridnour scored 10 points on 4-11 shooting, but played excellent defense throughout the game.
Coming off of the bench, Michael Beasley provided the Wolves with instant offense and hit 6 of his 10 shots, going on to score 15 points in only 16 minutes. Coach Adelman obviously did not feel comfortable leaving Super Cool Beas in the game due to his below average defense, but man Beasley really lit it up against a strong Lakers defense. Martell Webster also saw time at SG and SF, but only scored 2 points in 25 minutes.
Before his scary injury late in the 4th quarter, Ricky Rubio was playing a sensational ball game. In 39 minutes, Tricky Ricky scored 15 points on 5-12 shooting, tallied 10 assists, and grabbed 4 rebounds. Rubio had the highest +/- of any Pup with a +3 and was really feeling it on the pick-and-roll with Pekovic. The loss to LA is the last of the Timberwolves worries, as Ricky appeared to have suffered a significant knee injury. Watching the replay, Rubio’s knee appears to buckle after bumping with Kobe Bryant’s after Ricky attempted to trap Kobe on a double team. With JJ Barea injured, the Wolves are very thin at PG and will need to call upon rookie Malcolm Lee to see a significant role if Ricky is to miss time.
To keep this short and simple, the Timberwolves match up very unfavorably against the Lakers due to the presence of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Versatile 7 footers are the Achilles heal of the Pups, and when Kobe Bryant is nailing his shots there is really not much you can do against the veteran squad with championship experience. Being without Kevin Love, the Timberwolves played very respectfully against one of the best teams in the Western Conference .
Key Player: Kobe Bryant scored 34 points and yet again closed the game out to perfection. The “Masked Mamba” refuses to lose against the young Timberwolves, and the Lakers have now won 18 straight against Minnesota.
Key Stat: With the loss of Kevin Love, the Lakers outrebounded the Timberwolves 45-34. There is no getting around it; the loss of Love is going to mean a significant loss in rebounds.
Photo Credits: Milkenroar.com