The Lakers were within seconds of becoming the official slump busters of the NBA tonight in Minnesota. I’m still trying to forget that L in DC, the first loss to the Wizards since ’06. After the first quarter against the Wolves it was looking like the third straight L for the Lake Show and their first against Minny since ’07.
The first half was unwatchable. L.A. was plagued by turnovers and played no defense at all. Oh yeah, forgot to mention no Kevin Love, the second time the Lakers caught the upstart Wolves without Love this season. Last time around it was L.A. all day as they handed Minnesota their worst loss so far. This time you could tell Rick Adelman’s troops took that embarrassment to heart. Mike Brown didn’t have his group up for an aggressive game.
A lazy start had L.A. looking down the barrel of a 14-point deficit. To make matters worse Masked Mamba was still stuck in his cold streak. The road has been unkind to Kobe. Hopefully he knows where he left his jumper back in Los Angeles.
Making matters even worse is that even without Love it was Minnesota owing the paint. Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams outplayed the Laker bigs. Those two were active on the boards, aggressive in the paint, coming up with too many offensive boards leading to plenty of second chance points.
Williams made the most of his start. 22 and 10 from the rookie the Lakers coveted but couldn’t pull the trigger on a trade to get in the draft or now that season is started. But that is another topic.
Another reason this one was looking like the official rock bottom moment for the Lakers was how apathetic Pau Gasol was. At least Bynum actually played with some interest tonight. No loafing on Drew’s behalf. He balled for 43 solid minutes, clocked in with a quality 26 and 10 plus he was a force on defense.
Gasol was invisible for the first half then flashed his game in the second. His slow start gave way to an improved second half surge that helped push the Lakers over the hump.
Pau’s 12 and 11 were overshadowed by Pekovic posting a sick 25 and 13 line for the night. The Spaniard didn’t give it the same effort his counterpart did.
Luckily the Laker vets stepped up in the third quarter. Metta World Peace led an inspired defense which helped spark the offense. Before you knew it Pau was going to the hole with attitude, Derek Fisher was sinking triples from deep and that masked man started doing what he does best – killing it from everywhere on the court.
There is no doubt KB24 is one of the most dynamic scorers in the history of the game. He’s even got the stats to prove it. Needing only 12 points to crack the career 29,000 point barrier Kobe went for a game high 34. There were a couple of those vintage nasty crossovers finished with emphatic dunks. A few fall away Js and perfection from the stripe.
A back and forth battle went the way of the Lakers ultimately because of free throws. In a close game it can come down to the smallest things. L.A. won by 3 but they sunk one more free throw with one more attempt than Minnesota. The last two makes by Bryant came on a call that will be talked about.
If Adelman could speak his mind without a Stern fine he’d say Kobe ran over Ricky Rubio. The refs called a blocking foul, not a charge, and Mamba made it 10 for 10 from charity. After that is became academic.
The bigger talking point of that play is that Rubio had to be carried off the court with a knee injury. He didn’t go to the locker room, instead getting treatment on the bench. That could be crucial in Minnesota’s playoff chances. Hopefully the injury is nothing serious.
In the end it was not pretty but it was an inspired win for the Lake Show. Can’t take too much pride in it though. After the game Bynum could be seen saying “we won” as he gave a celebratory hug to Coach Brown. Hard to know if that was sarcasm or Young Bynum being serious. That’s part of his on-going maturing process though. Tough to get a beat on the kid but when he brings like tonight it’s hard for the Lakers to lose.
With that game in the rearview – and hopefully their form on the road – the Lake Show returns to Staples for a rivalry game against you know who. From here out every game counts. The Western Conference is stacked and beyond Boston the Lakers only have one more game against an opponent from the East. If this team is going to finally get focused and get on track it would be now or never. Last Sunday it looked like they finally turned the corner. Maybe they’ll do the same thing again one week later.