In the second of their three-game road trip, the Timberwolves squared off against the steadily-improving Los Angeles Lakers on a court that they had previously lost the past twelve games on. Without starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, matters were made worse as the Wolves lost yet another important member of their squad due to injury. Behind a terrific night from reigning Western Conference Player of the Week Kobe Bryant, the Lakers blew out the Wolves 116-94 as they continue to claw their way back from a terrible start to the season.
To be fair, Minnesota kept it close… for one quarter. One of the key matchups of the game was that of Dwight Howard vs. Nikola Pekovic, two of the biggest and strongest players in the league. Early on, Pek did a good job of establishing inside position while Ricky Rubio did a brilliant job of finding him for easy looks on multiple occasions. However, the after playing only 9 minutes, Pekovic was forced to head to the locker room late in the first quarter with what turned out to be an abdominal strain. His prognosis came out in the second period as we learned that Pek would miss the remainder of the game and would be out indefinitely. The big fella finished with 8 points (4-6 FG) and 3 rebounds.
With injuries completely obliterating Minnesota’s depth, the Wolves looked to young Derrick Williams to do his best against, ugh, Kobe Bryant. While D-Will did not do a terrible job guarding Kobe, he had very little help from his teammates as the Timberwolves were very slow rotating and closing gaps on defense.
The Lakers came out of the gate with some hot shooting which foreshadowed what was to happen for the rest of the contest. To Minnesota’s credit, they were severely under-manned and the Lakers had several blatant mismatches to exploit. Minnesota hung around in the first period as they did a good job of spacing the floor while Ricky dazzled the LA fans with some incredible passing.
The Timberwolves trailed Los Angeles 28-22 heading into the second quarter. With no Pekovic in the lane, the Lakers were able to effectively stretch the floor on offense leading to many open three-point opportunities, which they knocked down at a high rate. Offensively, the Timberwolves had a very difficult time creating offense with Rubio getting a breather. Alexey Shved had a difficult time against the physical LA perimeter defense, and he did not do the Wolves a favor by continually settling for long two-point shots. Defensively, the Wolves were awful on their rotations as noone pushed out to contest shots on the perimeter. Getting the start for AK-47, Dante Cunningham was ice-cold and could not hit his 18-footer that he loves so much.
At the half, Los Angeles led the Pups 57-47. My observations of the first two periods are as follows:
- Luke Ridnour had the hot hand for Minnesota, knocking down two corner threes and hitting just about everything he took.
- Dwight’s duties were made incredibly easy without Pekovic in the lane, and the self-proclaimed “Chocolate Shoulders” did a phenomenal job of protecting the rim against the team that finishes at the rim worse than any other NBA team.
- The Wolves could be seen with three point guards on the court at times, and if that doesn’t make you wince, you need help.
- Can’t say enough about Rubio, he was the only thing keeping this game from exploding into nightmare in the first half.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody watching, the Lakers controlled the game in the second half with the game getting ugly in the final quarter. Despite three strong overall performances by Ridnour, JJ Barea, and Rubio, the size differential between the two teams completely inhibited the Pups’ ability to compete on both ends of the floor. I could continue to elaborate on the second half, but I will save you the misery.
- Jodie Meeks made 4 of his 9 three-point attempts after missing his first 3 tries from deep, and reminded LA fans why they went out and got him last offseason.
- Steve Blake had a highly productive 25 minutes finishing the night with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench.
- Luke Ridnour did just about everything he could have done for Minnesota and his great performance will most likely be overlooked by the end result of the game. Ridnour scored 19 points (7-10 FG, 2-4 3PT) and added 3 steals in an efficient offensive performance.
- Derrick Williams played 39 minutes and was a game-worst -26 on the floor. I do not want to rag on him too much because he was asked to play out of position guarding Kobe. Williams contributed 15 points (6-14 FG), 8 rebounds and 3 turnovers in a long night for the second-year player.
Keys of the Game:
- Three-point shooting - I cannot emphasize enough the importance that perimeter shooting played in this one. The Lakers used the simple formula of feeding the ball into the post drawing Minnesota defenders into the interior, while Howard and other Lakers bigs found their open teammates waiting contently on the outside for wide-open three-pointers. LA converted a ridiculous 16 of their 32 attempts from deep as Minnesota shot a reasonable 7-21 themselves.
- Rebounding - LA 49, MN 35. No Pek + no AK + no Love = no rebounding. It’s a pretty simple formula.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Kobe Bryant - Oh boy, was the Black Mamba hot tonight. Kobe finished with 33 points (13-22 FG, 4-8 3PT), 5 assists and 5 rebounds in 32 minutes tonight. He showed off his range with a couple of very deep three-pointers and posterized Pekovic before the big man ultimately left with injury.
- Dwight Howard - Loved what I saw from the Dwightmare, who completely set the tone for LA defensively. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent is beginning to come into his own as a Laker and in 33 minutes finished with 11 points (5-6 FG), 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.
- Ricky Rubio - Rubio came very close to recording his first career triple-double but fell 2 rebounds short, as he finished the night with 13 points (5-11 FG), 13 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 33 minutes. I am sure many Laker fans left the Staples Center satisfied of what they saw from the young Spaniard.