If I spent as much time writing this recap as the Lakers spent playing good basketball against the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, it would last about three more sentences. However, since you demand more of me than that, I will give this my all.
In a contest that was as strange to watch as any win I can think of off the top of my head, the Lakers outlasted the Timberwolves 99-94 to improve their record to 8-0. And really, the win is the only positive I’ll choose to really take from this game. Because for most of the evening, the Lakers just didn’t look interested in playing winning basketball. I hate to say a bunch of negative things after a win, but tonight this is where we are.
Nearly every positive thing the Lakers did was counter balanced by something that they did not do correctly. For example:
*Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and on many possessions looked to be the dangerous scorer that we’ve come to know and love. His jumper was falling, his first step was executed quickly and with purpose, and he hit many shots that had me simply shaking my head they were so deadly in their efficiency. But that was mostly the first half. Then the second half came and things turned for him as shots got forced and he hunted foul calls rather than good looks for his teammates. On the night he needed 28 shots to get those 33 points and when looking at his night on the whole, he seemed more interested in getting his own offense than helping his teammates get theirs. At one point in the game, Kobe had taken 21 shots and the next closest Laker had taken 9. This type of shot distribution reminded me of last season where the offense didn’t run as smoothly, with the result being that the Lakers often needed late game heroics in order to pull out a win. Tonight didn’t require those heroics, but the feeling was the same.
*The Lakers, in some ways, were very active on defense. They forced 25 turnovers and turned those miscues into 23 points. They got their hands in passing lanes (9 steals) and pressured ball handlers into making careless mistakes either with their dribble or on a pass. However, that activity did not carry over to their defensive backboards as they gave up a whopping 26 offensive rebounds to the ‘Wolves (including an astounding 11 to Kevin Love alone). Often times the Lakers were simply outworked on the glass and even though the ‘Wolves only shot 38% from the floor (missing 57 shots), they were able to stay in the game because they turned so many trips on offense that should have been one and dones into 2nd and 3rd chances to get a single bucket.
Those are just two examples of how the Lakers were both bringing and taking things off the table the entire night, but there are many more examples in what was, again, just a puzzling game to endure.
What struck me as most strange about the game were the closing minutes. After wrestling with the ‘Wolves all night, the Lakers finally staked out a lead late in the 4th quarter. But with the lead in hand and only needing to pull off the equivalent of a victory formation and three kneel downs in an NFL game, the Lakers got loose with the ball and quick with their shot attempts to allow Minnesota to stay within striking distance. On twitter I mentioned that the Lakers acted like they were playing from behind even though they had the lead. For such a smart, veteran team that typically shows a lot of discipline the Lakers baffled me with how they handled this stretch.
In the end, though, they pulled out the win. And really, that’s all that matters in this results driven league. On a night where the Heat blew a 22 point first half lead (and an 8 point cushion in the final 33 seconds) to lose in overtime and the Pacers only missed one shot in an entire quarter (going 20-21 and scoring 54 points in the process), I guess more bizarre things and worse results could have occurred. The Lakers may have allowed a 20-20 game from Love, but they still won the game on the backs of Kobe and Gasol (who had a quietly effective 18 point, 10 rebound game) as it has been for most of the year. This surely wasn’t a contest that the Lakers will throw on the highlight reel at the end of the season, but the win counts just as much as the demolition of Portland from Sunday. So while we’re all left a bit unsatisfied with the victory, I think we can all agree it’s better than the alternative.