Lakers 110, Minnesota 90: Hugs for all the people!
The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't a particularly good team when everyone's available. Without Al Jefferson and Randy Foye, as they were Friday night at Staples Center, arguably the only thing that separates Kevin McHale's bunch from the NBA and an the rec are some really ugly NBA-licensed road uniforms. That said, the Lakers haven't exactly been consistent in their ability to dispatch of low level competition, missing opportunities to get the starters early rest and important burn for the rest of the bench. Not tonight. LA took control early and held it, winning 110-90 and executing the blueprint to perfection. Only Pau Gasol cracked the 30 minute mark (by all of 33 seconds) and the reserves had extended opportunities to stretch their collective legs.
It's a reward the headliners know was well deserved for the supporting cast.
"Maybe the last three or four games, we felt like there were maybe teams that they should have been able to get (them) on the court, but we didn't go a good job at protecting our lead," said Lamar Odom. "Tonight was fun to see them out there and be able to do their thing, because they push us in practice. They make us better, so we have to go out there and show that it paid off, and play well to get them on the court. "
- Turnovers: Specifically, the lack thereof. Against a T-Wolves team missing its two best scorers in Jefferson and Foye, the scouting report says if the Lakers don't offer up free points on a platter by turning the ball over (1), good things will happen (2). give up cheap points, good things will happen. They didn't (1) and they did (2). Four turnovers on the night, including long stretches of garbage time minutes with the "Hello My Name Is..." unit of Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison, and Trevor Ariza took the floor. That's impressive, and reflected in the score.
- Defense: At the end of the first quarter, Minnesota was shooting 33%. At the end of the second, 31%. Through three, 33%. At the end, 33%. That's effective. Knowing the Wolves didn't have much to offer, LA did a nice job of sealing the paint and keeping Minnesota outside, daring, double dog daring even, them to make jumpers. When Minnesota did manage to get the ball down low, no small portion of their shot attempts went the other way, thanks to 14 blocks from the Lakers, their second straight game with double digit swats. Mbenga led the way with four, Odom and Josh Powell each had three, Pau two. Even lil' Jordan Farmar got all up there and joined the block party. In the third quarter, the Lakers took over the game in part by forcing five Timberwolves TOs and turning them into nine points, helping stretch an 11 point halftime lead to 18.
- Bench Mob 2.0: Earlier in the season, it was guys like Farmar, Ariza, and of course LO pushing the success of the second unit. Tonight, it was Josh Powell (6-11 for 14 points, plus six rebounds and three blocks) and Mbenga, quickly becoming a crowd favorite with his big swats (five) and surprisingly effective scoring, going 4-5 from the floor en route to a career high 10 points (leaving him a scant 23,000 and change behind Kobe Bryant, who passed Robert Parish for 18th on the all time scoring list Friday night). "We believe that every guy on the team can make a positive contribution," Derek Fisher said. "It doesn't mean just scoring or doing things offensively. I think people enjoyed DJ's shot blocking more than the points he scored. It was him impact, his effort, and his energy that made a difference in that final quarter. We're going to need that type of thing in order to win a championship. We can't do this with just Kobe or just Pau or just the starters. It's going to take all of us."
The Lakers worked to give Chris Mihm a chance to regain the form he had a couple years back. I certainly was pulling for the guy, and wanted him to have a shot. Clearly, though, they made the right choice in basketball terms by letting him go and turning his minutes over to someone with more mobility and presence. Against better competition, Mbenga's challenge will be to avoid foul trouble and still contribute. But it's great to see guys like Mbenga and Powell, who are harder workers than they are big talents, have a chance to succeed.
- Luke Walton: The evening's first possession kicked off with Walton getting blocked on a layup attempt by noted swatter Mike Miller (one-third of a block per game on a career!), an omen for the struggles #4 was to experience. 1-6 from the floor, and a few misses were on attempts where he tried to do considerably too much. The worst offense was a sequence where Luke put the ball on the floor, back on the floor again... and again... and again... without actually going anywhere... until finally firing a brick. Pounding the rock until it's black and blue to create a shot ain't remotely Luke's game. Even when the razzle dazzle was successful- his one make was a spinning, off balance one-handed bank shot- the encore was a muddy turnover in the paint on the very next Laker possession. He only had one turnover, but it felt like more. There was also a few defensive breakdowns and late closes, typifying a night where, a couple of nice passes aside, Walton looked mostly out of sorts.
- Lamar Odom: Recently against Memphis, I praised the heck out of LO for a night where he notched a measly two points, but otherwise brought plenty of "gibles"- "tan" and "intan"- to the table. Tonight was the Bizarro World version of that two point performance. Take away the five boards (pretty low by his standards, anyway), and his gaudiest number on the night was a "4," which happened to mark his foul total, along with the number of foul shots he took and missed. Odom's general lack of energy was evident enough that Phil even asked LO at halftime if he was doing okay. In the meantime, again, just two points, on the same amount of attempts. As many Lakers Blog regulars know, I've often said that LO's point total can be an overblown conversation piece among fans. Lamar is never going to be a 20 ppg kinda guy, nor does he even need to be on this particular team. But he does at least need to represent a scoring threat, and along those lines, a pair of tries, like the overall effort itself, won't cut the mustard.
- The Wolves' work on the offensive glass: Wait, let me rephrase. They actually did a terrific job, despite the absence of Al Jefferson. Minnesota snagged eighteen offensive rebounds, six higher than their average. Heck, Shelden Williams alone had five. However, by definition, that would mean the Lakers were rather lousy in bodying up, boxing out, and general reactions towards the Wolves' plethora of brick. Given the final score, it would be hard to argue this really "hurt" the Lakers. But even if it's a victimless crime, that doesn't mean they wouldn't be found guilt in a court of law. Were the Wolves a more competent (or healthy, if nothing else) squad, they might have been able to convert that discrepancy into more than sixteen second chance points.
One Impressive Thing:
- Shannon Brown: They don't keep stats for YouTube Worthy Moments Per 48, but if they did, Brown would be leading the league. In the fourth quarter, about two minutes after entering the game Brown elevated like he was re-enacting a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to throw down a big dunk. Then, similar to this gem we saw a few weeks back, rose up to contest what looked like a sure fire layup for Minnesota's Bobby Brown on the other end. (Brown on Brown crime. It's a shame, really.) Dude. Has. Hops.
One Big Thing:
- Rest: A season is filled with all sorts of peaks and valleys, with high profile moments (say, consecutive games on the road against Boston and Cleveland) and weeks like this one, with games against Memphis and Minny (also a popular jug band in Alabama back in the mid-60s) that would be... less interesting. But when it's said and done, LA could benefit from how they handled these two games as much as any other two on the docket. Twice the starters had a chance to sit without crashing the 30 minute mark. Combined with a light schedule, the Lakers gave themselves a great opportunity to recharge the batteries ahead of this week's very tough roadie through Portland, Houston, and San Antonio.
Phil Jackson, on DJ Mbenga and the team's defense:
Phil Jackson on the Lakers being the first this season to 50 wins, and the upcoming roadie:
Kobe Bryant on the win, DJ, Shannon Brown, and other sundry items: