Five things to take away from the Lakers' 99-94 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves
1. The Lakers appeared uninterested. Instead of using the team's off day to rest and recharge, the team seemed to take it as a sign they can take things easy. Instead of carrying their team-first offense and hustle on defense against Portland, the offense collectively broke down and the defense remained non-existent. Instead of the Lakers approaching their game against punching-bag Minnesota wanting to play well enough to warrant heavy rest among the starters, the team needed to grind it out to secure a 99-94 victory Tuesday over the Timberwolves.
Playing down to the competition isn't anything new among the Lakers in seasons past, but it's something they mostly avoided this season. Until now. Coach Phil Jackson and guard Derek Fisher sharply criticized the team's effort, but others spouted every cliche imaginable to argue the bottom line only matters. The game itself has zero bearing on the big picture. The Lakers are 8-0, after all. But they missed a great opportunity to blow out the Timberwolves (1-7), rest their starters and give the bench more playing time. There's going to be plenty of games this season, particularly in January and February, where it's tempting to just mail in performances. But that honestly requires more energy than if they just took care of what they needed to do in the first place.
Say what you will about Minnesota's improved play, but the result wouldn't have been in question had the Lakers simply tried. After all, the Timberwolves entered the game, according to Elias Sports Bureau, as only the third team in 20 years to lose three of their first seven games by 25 or more points.
2. Minnesota outworked the Lakers on the boards. The Lakers epitomized their poor effort in this first-quarter sequence: forward Ron Artest misguided an entry pass inside to Kobe Bryant, allowing Minnesota forward Michael Beasley to steal the ball away. The Lakers appeared slow to get back on transition defense. And Lakers forward Pau Gasol refused to fight for a rebound, resulting in Timberwolves' reserve Anthony Tolliver receiving an easy putback to put Minnesota up 25-21 with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
Minnesota missed plenty of midrange shots, going 38% from the field, but 26 offensive rebounds offset that poor shooting stroke. The Lakers also left the Timberwolves too open on the perimeter, then scrambled to spread out on the floor, leaving them further exposed on the glass.
It was just the beginning of a poor rebounding effort in which the Timberwolves beat the Lakers, 54-42, including a career-high 24 from Minnesota forward and UCLA product Kevin Love. In fairness, the Timberwolves and the Lakers entered the game tied in the league with 48.71 rebounds per game, but this wouldn't have been an issue had the Lakers hustled; the fact that Andrew Bynum remains absent just doesn't cut it.
3. The Lakers didn't take advantage of Minnesota's 25 turnovers. The Lakers illustrated their inability to capitalize on the Timberwolves' sloppy play best in this second-quarter sequence: After Minnesota guard Wes Johnson air-balled a jumper, Artest ripped the ball out of Love's hands. Bryant tried driving the lane on the other end, but Sebastian Telfair forced a turnover. Love's wide-open three-pointer fell short, but the Timberwolves got the rebound and got the ball to center Darko Milicic, who then committed an offensive foul on Gasol.
This says more about the sloppy play than it does about any team's ability to recover on a play. The Lakers may have scored 21 points off turnovers, but nine of the Timberwolves' 12 first-half turnovers led to nothing. The Timberwolves' first four turnovers in the second half resulted in Lakers baskets, but the following nine turnovers didn't result in any points. Had the Lakers converted on half of those turnovers, this game would've been a blowout. Had Minnesota avoided committing half of those, the Timberwolves would've won.
4. Kobe Bryant takes over, mostly justified and sometimes to a fault. Very few things went well with the offense, as poor entry passes, rushed shots and isolation plays led to the Lakers looking much different than in the first seven games. In moments like these, Bryant has every right to take over the game. He nailed plenty of elbow jumpers, exploited poor defense from Johnson and Michael Beasley and kept the Lakers in a game that featured the team playing like they were behind even though they were usually ahead. Signature plays such as Bryant's jumper over Beasley followed by slapping his knee, a pull-up over Lazar Hayward that drew a foul with 2.1 seconds left in the second quarter and a baseline drive for an underhanded reverse layup defined his tremendous skill set. He took over the game, however, to a fault, going one of six in the fourth quarter. And plenty of his shots came directly after a blown defensive assignment, showing that Bryant seemed more fixated on exacting revenge than fully following the context of the game.
5. A limited Lamar Odom hurts the Lakers. Odom proved instrumental in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points on three-of-three shooting, including a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 92-87 lead with 5:20 remaining. If only he had that type of effort for most of the game.
Odom appeared lifeless, though, missing five of his first seven shots and then tacking on two early fouls, forcing him to play less aggressively and limiting his time to only 26 minutes, 34 seconds. Odom's struggles pointed more to him initially getting in a rhythm and then remaining tentative because of early fouls. But this fully illustrates how the Lakers can't afford him to sit out and not provide what he normally has thus far.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Minnesota forward Michael Beasley, left, battles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for a loose ball during the second quarter of the Lakers' 99-94 victory Tuesday at Staples Center. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.
Middle photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol puts up a reverse layup against Minnesota center Darko Milicic during the first quarter. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant gets off a shot as Minnesota forwards Michael Beasley, left, and Corey Brewer attempt to stop him during the fourth quarter. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times