Five things to take away from Lakers' 112-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves
As soon as Barnes knocked down one of his five three-pointers against Minnesota in the fourth quarter, he puffed open his mouth as if to suggest he felt on fire. Yet, Barnes told KCAL's John Ireland after the Lakers' 112-95 victory Friday over the Timberwolves that he wasn't fully aware of his performance until Lakers spokesman John Black informed Barnes of his perfect stat line: a season-high 24 points on seven-of-seven shooting, including five of five from three-point range, with seven rebounds and six assists.
That mind-set perfectly reveals how Barnes reached a perfect stat line. He hasn't worried about stats or minutes one bit this season. Even though he's still on a learning curve with the triangle, Barnes enters the lineup and simply finds ways to be effective. Since the Lakers boast plenty of scorers, Barnes has distinguished himself by contributing with hustle, setting others up and constantly cutting in hopes it opens up space either for himself or a teammate. So even if Barnes led the team statistically in points, it's the plus-minus statistic (+27) that shows his biggest worth.
He threw a pass in mid-air from the top of the key to an open Lamar Odom for the slam inside. He took advantage of Darko Milicic's misguided attempt to save the ball from going out of bounds under his own basket, retrieved his pass in the paint and converted on the open shot. And he scored the team's last 10 points of the third quarter, bringing the Lakers to an 84-71 advantage entering the final period.
Barnes' solid play epitomized the Lakers' bench attitude in wanting to sustain and build leads, while worrying little about how they look in the box score. Shannon Brown, who was poked in the right eye late in the game, continued his revamped shooting stroke with 11 points on three-of-six shooting. Derrick Caracter's 10 minutes of play helped Pau Gasol knock his minutes down to 38. And Lakers Coach Phil Jackson felt comfortable enough with the bench to sit Kobe Bryant for the final 5:25 of the game, limiting his minutes to 31.
But it was Barnes who proved to be the main difference in the game.
Jackson joked to reporters beforehand that Love has averaged 17.3 rebounds in the last 10 days because "he fouls and gets away with it a lot." Incidentally, Odom was the one who got in foul trouble during the Lakers' unimpressive win against Minnesota 10 days ago, partly contributing to Love grabbing a career-high 24 boards.
It proved much different the second time around with Odom largely responsible for Love's zero-point performance on zero-of-seven shooting to go with his seven rebounds. Odom's stat line of 11 points on five-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds and seven assists in 40 minutes proved typical, but it was his defense on Love that was eye-opening. He challenged Love on drives. He poked away entry passes directed toward him. And most importantly, he didn't allow him space to even attempt many field goals.
After Gasol posted the kind of numbers to spark whether he's deserving of league MVP, Jackson found another way to needle El Spaniard by insisting Gasol needs to play more aggressive to reach that level. Instead of proving Jackson otherwise against Minnesota, Gasol validated the coach's claim. Instead of matching or surpassing his 22.9 points a game average on 55% shooting, he presented a disappointing 16-point performance on six- of-13 shooting, though it proved much better than his first-half clip of one of seven. Instead of overwhelming the punchline that is Darko Milicic, Gasol allowed him to nearly drop a triple double with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 16 rebounds, six blocked shots and five assists, making T-Wolves owner David Kahn appear to be a genius for locking him in to a long-term deal.
The sequences were far from pretty. Gasol allowed Milicic to convert on left hooks. He let him drive past him with ease on a reverse layup. And he appeared frustrated with getting good looks in the lane. To his credit, Gasol adjusted in the second half and made shots on the perimeter and finished with 14 rebounds. But the best forward in the league should not be losing in a matchup against one of the league's biggest busts.
One might point out that Bryant didn't have a good shooting night either, finishing with 23 points on eight-of-27 shooting. But I didn't find problems with his shot selection. His shots just didn't go in as often as he'd have liked. I also liked his aggressiveness, as he appeared very engaged in the game and with running the offense. Gasol, on the other hand, just appeared lifeless.
4. Derek Fisher played efficiently
Quietly, but effectively, Fisher marked his presence in various ways. He deflected several passes to disrupt Minnesota's offense. He hit key shots, such as when he cut open behind the perimeter or pulled up on the right block for a jumper. And he set up teammates, ranging from his alley-oop lob and cross-court pass to Bryant.
Fisher's 12 points on five-of-five shooting, including two of two from three-point range, and four steals might get buried behind Barnes' performance, Odom's defense or Gasol's struggles. But it's representative of a productive season thus far, where he entered tonight's game making 60% (15 of 25) of his threes, third best in the NBA. Laker fans usually see this mark in the playoffs and usually become split over his regular-season play, such as last season when he shot 34.8% from three-point range. But Fisher has been quietly efficient all season, showing he still has it in him and that the bench has provided enough of a lift to keep him rested.
5. Ron Artest could've played better defense on Michael Beasley
Artest sat at his locker before the game last Sunday against Phoenix lamenting about his defense and how he needs to be sharper. It's safe to say that he still feels that way after allowing Beasley to score 25 points on nine-of-22 shooting. On one play, Milicic set a down screen on Artest while Beasley cut toward the nearside. Artest had trouble fighting through the pick and Beasley nailed the open jumper. On another play, Beasley simply knocked down a jumper over Artest, who allowed too much space for Beasley to operate. And on several other plays, Beasley drove past Artest toward the rack off one dribble.
There's going to be nights like tonight where the Lakers can absorb this kind of performance. But there's going to be games (Oklahoma City, Miami) where Artest is going to be the X-Factor and will be counted on to shut down the team's top scorer.
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Photos: (Top) Lakers forward Matt Barnes dishes in transition. Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn / US Presswire. (Middle, left) As Lakers forward Lamar Odom challenges a shot by Wolves forward Kevin Love, guard Derek Fisher makes the block from behind. Credit: Jim Mone / Associated Press. (Middle, right) Minnesota center Darko Milicic blocks one of three shots by Lakers center Pau Gasol in the first half. Credit: Jim Mone / Associated Press. (Bottom) Lakers forward Ron Artest tries to save a ball from going out of bounds in the first half. Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn / US Presswire.