Five things to take from Lakers' 106-101 win over Timberwolves
1. The Lakers made the game harder than it should've been in their 106-101 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They had all the ingredients for an easy win. The Lakers' inside presence in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum remained efficient. The Lakers surprisingly shot well from three-point range. They led by as many as 18 points with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
The moment the Timberwolves put in a zone defense late in the third quarter, however, things fell apart. The Lakers kept hoisting shots instead of forcing it inside. They couldn't get back on defense, as Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio helped run the Timberwolves offense. Suddenly, a 13-2 third-quarter run and a 17-10 fourth-quarter run gave the Timberwolves a 91-89 lead with 5:09 remaining.
From a result standpoint, at least the Lakers improved their road record to 2-7 and scored 100 points for the first time in 14 games. But this game shouldn't have been close at all.
2. The Lakers secured the win because of crucial late-game plays. Gasol fed Bynum for two easy dunks. Derek Fisher found Gasol open for a 20-footer. Bryant made a 13-footer and a nifty runner. The Lakers don't deserve much praise for this game. It's not a good thing Bryant and Gasol each logged 42 minutes and played the entire second half. But at least the Lakers changed their offense effectively to secure the win. They first went inside. Then, when the frontline met double teams, Bryant went to work. It's an easy formula, but the Lakers mysteriously went away from it when Minnesota first switched to its zone defense.
3. Bryant played a complete game. His 35 points and 14 rebounds tell the whole story. It's also noteworthy that Bryant surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most field goals made in Lakers franchise history. But it's the way Bryant played that remained so impressive. Bryant's high scoring didn't come at the expense of a flourishing inside game. In fact, Bryant allowed Gasol and Bynum to establish that presence first.
But Bryant shot surprisingly well from three-point range (five for nine) by catching the ball in rhythm. He thrived on catch-and-shoot touches. With Minnesota dominating the Lakers on the offensive boards (24-7) because of poor awareness by Gasol and Bynum, Bryant filled that void and didn't allow that weakness to hurt them enough to lose the game. It's a hard balance to strike, but Bryant's managing to carry the team while trying to force as much as he can for Gasol and Bynum to hold their own too.
5. Metta World Peace was a non-factor as a starter. He botched an inbounds pass late in the game. He went zero for four from the field. He scored only two points. Yup, it's not exactly the jump-start Lakers Coach Mike Brown hoped such a lineup shuffle might cause. But it's not surprising. In fairness to World Peace, he didn't play horribly. He hustled for four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and cheered constantly on the bench. But unless World Peace plays well on a consistent basis, I don't see how moving him to the starting lineup really does anything.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket for a reverse layup in the first half Sunday evening in Minneapolis. Credit: Craig Lassig / European Pressphoto Agency / Jan. 29, 2012