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Lakers continue to improve defensively in 90-79 victory over Minnesota Timberwolves

March 1, 2011 |  9:18 pm


Everybody on the Lakers appeared spread out on the court, but they all turned in one direction.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom bodied up Minnesota forward Kevin Love, preventing him from getting solid post position. Lakers guard Steve Blake stepped down to swipe the ball away. Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Lakers forward Luke Walton remained ready to slide over in the paint. And Lakers guard Shannon Brown stood above the free-throw line ready to defend the perimeter in case Love kicked the ball outside.

Instead, Love drove inside and met plenty of resistance, ranging from Blake continually trying to steal the ball, Odom contesting the shot and Bynum putting a body on him to make it difficult for Lobe to maneuver. Timberwolves guard Wesley Johnson recovered the loose ball off Bynum's blocked shot and found Love open in the paint. But once he received the pass, Walton held his ground, while both Odom and Bynum crashed the boards for the possible rebound. Walton's tight defense forced Love into shooting an airball and Bynum's proximity to the basket allowed him to grab the easy board.

That play in the Lakers' 90-79 victory Tuesday over Minnesota perfectly represented the Lakers' continuous effort in locking down defensively. This by no means overlooks the fact the Timberwolves (14-47) remain in last place in the Western Conference, minimizes the Lakers' horrific shooting percentage (37.5%) and Minnesota's equally poor mark from the field (39.7%). But it highlights the Lakers (43-19) improved effort nonetheless in remaining disciplined on defense that ensured their fifth consecutive victory since the NBA All-Star break. 

"Communication, focusing on practice and keep going over and over until it becomes second nature," Odom ticked off to KCAL-9's John Ireland after posting 12 points and 11 rebounds and holding Love to 13 points on two of 10 shooting and 11 boards. "It was just our night defensively."

It sure was and the Lakers surely needed it to win. That's because the Lakers trailed 45-40 at halftime because of atrocious offensive execution, capped by Minnesota's 7-0 run. The Lakers went 14 of 46 from the field, committed nine turnovers and the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol only combined for seven points. An easy solution would've entailed getting Andrew Bynum involved after going four of eight from the field in the first half before picking up three early fouls with 6:46 remaining in the second quarter, but the Lakers' trigger happy tendencies got the best of them.

A stronger defensive effort in the second half helped the Lakers jumpstart their execution. They held Minnesota to 34 second-half points, outrebounded them 53-39 overall and held them to a 39.7% clip the entire game. The defensive discipline proved valuable in many ways. Ron Artest's deflection on Michael Beasley allowed Bryant to connect with Gasol for an easy layup on transition. Gasol's defensive rebound enabled Bryan to drive baseline for an open two-handed dunk to cut the deficit to 58-56 with 3:33 remaining and another Gasol board set up Bryant's open 15-footer that tied the game up at 58-58 with 2:21 left in the third quarter.

Much like the way Lakers held Oklahoma City to 31 second-half points, the stronger intensity on defense then generated better ball movement, ensuring Bryant (24 points, eight of 20) shooting, Bynum (14 points, five of 10 shooting), Gasol (12 points, three of 10 shooting, 17 rebounds) and Odom (12 points, 11 rebounds) cracked double figures. Odom found a cutting Shannon Brown backdoor for an easy layup, widening the gap to 72-63 after capping an 18-5 run with 9:49 remaining. A pick-and-roll between Gasol and Bryant resulted in an open shot for Gasol, whose shot was blocked by Beasley. No matter. Odom followed with a putback for an 80-69 lead with 4:03 remaining. And Bryant finding Odom cutting into the lane resulted in an open layup for an 82-69 cushion with 3:31 left.

"We're focusing on defense," Odom said. "When you play good defense in any sport, it gives you a chance to win."

--Mark Medina

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Photo: Minnesota's Kevin Love, left, beats the Lakers' Andrew Bynum to a rebound during the first half of the Lakers' 90-79 victory Tuesday. Credit: Jim Mone / Associated Press / March 1, 2011