Coming into the game it was obvious that the Lakers had too much talent for the Timberwolves to handle over the course of an entire game. Which, for a Lakers team that hasn’t put together a complete 48 minutes in some time, was the perfect combination of factors that led to this uninspiring win. But, win the Lakers did and with the 97-88 victory the Lakers have now clinched the #1 seed in the Western Conference and have secured home court advantage through the Western Conference Finals. So while it’s difficult to celebrate a lack luster game and an underwhelming victory, it’s not difficult to see the importance in what this game meant to the Lakers. It’s never old hat to earn a #1 seed and this is now the third straight season that the Lakers have accomplished this feat. For that, Lakers fans should be proud.
This game started out the way that you would think when one of the best teams in the league plays one of the worst. The Lakers took control early and did so on the strength of Pau Gasol’s post game and the scoring of Ron Artest and Shannon Brown. In the first period, Gasol scored 6 points on a couple of nice mid range jumpers while Artest and Brown showed off their outside shooting when each knocked down a three pointer.
But the game really turned for the Lakers in the 2nd quarter. In the second twelve minutes the Lakers would blow this game open with a 31 point quarter while holding the ‘Wolves to only 17. The Lakers forced turnover after turnover and turned Minnesota’s miscues into easy baskets and nice cushion. Surprisingly, it was the bench that did most of the damage as Farmar, Sasha, and Mbenga led the charge. The aggressiveness that defines Farmar’s game finally returned as he was active in the open court and confident with his outside shot. And Sasha too seemed to have regained some of his lost swagger as he was knocking down outside shots, pestering players on defense with solid perimeter D and timely digs on post players, and capably initiating our sets when Farmar played off the ball. And then there was DJ. ’Congo Cash’ hustled on the glass, contested shots in the paint, and got interior buckets and tip ins when the defense got caught looking (all to the tune of a new career high of 11 points). Really, it was nice to see our bench have productive stint – especially on the second night of a back to back. By the time the starters came back into the game with a little under 6 minutes left in the half, the lead had reached double digits and the starters would then pile on and push the margin to 18 as the half closed.
But, it wouldn’t be a Lakers game (at least lately) if the other team didn’t make a run that made the game closer than it ever should have been. Taking advantage of a lethargic defense and an undisciplined offense the ‘Wolves got out in transition, started making three pointers (Jonny Flynn had three triples in the period), and out hustled the Lakers on the offensive glass. Led by Kevin Love’s beastly efforts on the backboards, Minnesota scrapped back and ultimately made the third quarter their own by outscoring the Lakers 31-22 and cutting LA’s lead to 9 going into the 4th period.
But in the end, it would not be enough for Minnesota. Even though the ‘Wolves would get the the Lakers’ lead down to as little as 4 points against the taco unit, the talent gap was too large. Gasol rained a couple of jumpers, Farmar continued his good shooting night, and Odom closed the game with an exclamation points of a long three pointer followed by a nice alley oop finger roll in the closing seconds. And ultimately the game ended as it started, with the Lakers having too much talent and skill for Minnesota to match. As I said earlier, it may not have been a great game or an inspiring win, but it’s a win all the same and it clinches the West’s top seed for the Lakers. I’ll take it.
A couple of other notes on this one:
*I already mentioned Kevin Love’s rebounding prowess but it deserves another. Love is one of the most natural rebounders I’ve ever seen. There have been more impressive looking rebounders – Dennis Rodman, KG, and Moses Malone come to mind – but Love is just as effective as those guys. Another 18 rebounds in this game for Love which brings his total in his last 6 games to 89 rebounds (14.3 average). That average would lead the league by over a full rebound a game (Dwight Howard leads the NBA at 13.2 a game) if he could’ve replicated those numbers over the entire year (which I honestly believe is possible if he received the playing time). The man is just a monster on the glass. And to think, he’s only 21 years old. I think he could easily do this for 12-14 more years just because he doesn’t rely on athleticism, but rather on positioning, timing, and instincts.
*Pau Gasol is really good. I didn’t mention his stat line earlier, but he had another world class night with 29 points, 15 rebounds (7 offensive), 4 assists, and 4 blocks. The only blemish on his stat line was his four turnovers, but most of those were late in the game where he was forcing cross court passes when he was getting crowed on the strong side post. At least two of those passes were also the product of a awful player movement as everyone just stood around, expecting Pau to make a play. The key to ensuring that those cross court passes don’t get stolen is to send a cutter through the paint to collapse the defense. This way, the weakside wing gets drawn into the lane and that skip pass is easier. Instead, Pau was making the right read, but the other players weren’t cooperating by doing their part. This doesn’t relieve Pau of all blame – the passes weren’t the best ones he’s made – but there were reasons they ended up the way that they did.
*I really feel bad for Rambis. It’s hard for me to tell if this team is bad because of personnel or if his coaching is really lacking but he’s in a tough spot. I mean, I’ve disagreed with how he’s handled Love’s minutes (there was a point this season where Jefferson was out and he started Darko and Ryan Hollins while still bringing Love off the bench), but this is a young team and I think he’d be much better on a veteran team that had more experience dealing with the complexity of the schemes he’s trying to install. I’m not sure if he would have ended up being the eventual successor to Phil, but it’s obvious that he has a great rapport with a lot of the current Lakers and I wish he could have stayed on with us rather than watch him struggle through these types of frustrating nights. Did you see how PO’d he was when Lamar hit that three late in the game? He really wanted this win and he doesn’t have the horses. It’s a bit depressing.