Unpredictable (and Fun) Lakers are Back, Beat the ‘Wolves 104-91

Darius Soriano —  December 20, 2013

Well, that was fun.

Without Kobe and without a point guard playing a single minute (the newly acquired Kendall Marshall was a DNP-CD), the Lakers beat the Timberwolves by 13 points to move back to .500 on the season. I’d say I saw this coming, but that would be a lie. The Lakers again played like the unpredictable, free-wheeling group they were before Kobe returned and put it on the Wolves in a totally unexpected manner.

The highlights and fun moments were plentiful, but what stood out most to me was the way this team played defensively. The ‘Wolves only converted on 33 of their 95 field goals (34.7%), including a pretty terrible 5-22 from behind the arc. If you want to know what that wretchedness looks like, here you go:

Wolves

That includes Kevin Love’s 9-18 from the floor, too. Take his night away, and the Wolves only hit 24 of 77 shots from the floor against a Lakers’ D that scrambled and hustled around the floor smartly to contest shots by the team’s better shooters while leaving the guys open who deserved to be. The result was a T-Wolves’ offense that never really got on track and struggled to produce points in the half court. Of course, the Wolves didn’t help themselves by playing lineups with multiple non-factors on offense for most of the night, but those are the guys they have at their disposal, so I’m really not sure what Rick Adelman was supposed to do.

While I’ll remember the D, most others will remember the balanced offensive night that had three Lakers score 20 or more points with the entire team shooting nearly 54% for the evening.

Nick Young was fantastic off the bench with a team high 25 points, including several big jumpers in the 2nd half that either stopped a Minnesota team that looked poised to make a run or pushed the Lakers ahead and really got the crowd (and his teammates) into the action. Xavier Henry was also fantastic, scoring 21 points on a very nice combination of long jumpers and nice finishes at the rim. Henry wasn’t particularly efficient (8-19 shooting), but his aggressiveness never waned and the team needed the pressure he applied to the T-Wolves defense.

For my money, though, the Lakers’ best player offensively was Pau Gasol. The big Spaniard had 21 points on 8-15 shooting while also dishing out a team high 8 assists to go with his 13 rebounds (6 offensive). Pau orchestrated the offense from the high and low post, making several good reads and acting as a facilitator on countless possessions. His ability to have the offense funnel through him was especially needed considering the team’s lack of point guards and the fact that he was able to get his teammates going while still being an efficient scoring option really kept the team’s offense balanced. He also had the most fun play of the night, hitting a big three pointer with the shot clock running down and then running back up the court celebrating a la Nick Young with a smile wider than we’ve seen him flash in some time.

And that may be the biggest takeaway from this game. The Lakers, while being counted out by nearly everyone and with countless reasons to feel down on themselves, went out and played hard, played together, and had fun. They’re back to being the underdog and while that’s not a familiar place for this franchise, it certainly seems to fit this group of players who revel in being able to outperform expectations and enjoy showing people that even with the odds against them they still know how to play this game. In the long run playing the spoiler isn’t going to get them any closer to the lofty goals the organization sets for themselves, but it will ingratiate themselves to a fan-base looking for some bright spots and who will cheer you on when you play hard and provide some entertainment while doing it.

For now, maybe that’s all we can ask for but if the team is going to deliver it we’re all going to love them for it.

Darius Soriano

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36 responses to Unpredictable (and Fun) Lakers are Back, Beat the ‘Wolves 104-91

  1. From the previous thread. — Now can we please quit ragging on MDA? He has these guys playing their bu**s off. Without a real star we need this type of play to keep people in the seats.

    Above I said I would be looking for crisp passes and active defense tonight. Well, what do you know, we got both and got a win. Well, tomorrow night will be tougher, but all we can do is give it our best.

    For those that think this team is better without Kobe, you are showing your ignorance. This team would be overachieving to get to the playoffs. With Kobe integrated they would actually have some firepower to carry into the fight. In the next six weeks this team will establish an identity that will be much harder for Kobe to rein in and he will have to make some adjustments, too, but he also won’t be asked to be the PG at that time.

  2. Delight was the repeated emotion of the night. This is a team that plays for each other, which we Lakers fans haven’t seen in a long, long time. Great win. Kaman sighting!

  3. Craig,

    I think they are better without Kobe. If that makes me ignorant then so be it. They play harder. They know what they are trying to do. And they have an identity. When he’s there they are discombobulated. Yes, we are looking at a small sample size. But it is clear those guys really play for one another. For whatever reason all that shuts off when Kobe is out there. But most of all they play faster. This group of guys has to play at a quick pace to maximize their effectiveness. The slowdown game they play to accomodate Kobe takes away most of the teams strengths and highlights their weaknesses.

    And let’s be honest. This is a borderline playoff team at best even with Kobe. There is just too much talent in the West. Kobe at this stage of his career and effectiveness is not going to make a huge difference.

  4. Pau Gasol shot 10/15, not 8/15.

  5. Just stood up 2day…..was up till 6am to See my Lakers play…..gotta admit, this is by far the most fun Bunch of players i have Seen in a long time….pau starting to look like an all star again, AS does swaggy…..i mean he really makes some shots, those types of shots only a few privileged ones can….if i was Mitch, i’d give him a 3 year 15mill extension to be our 6th man oft the future….he reminds me somewhat oft a Jamal Crawford in top shape, has got some mad handles and no fear whatsoever….i think we need a player of that caliber going forward….

    And just a quick thought on da mamba….he can not be human…i mean he broke his knee and kept playing, hitting hat huge shot Form waaaaay outside on litteraly one good leg….i can only recall one player Form the top oft my head how has done something simular….soccer player Otto addo Form Dortmund/germany once scored a beautiful goal on a broken lag before he got substituded….check that one out….worth seeing, but Kobe went all the way to finish the game, like i said he aint coming from planet earth

    Sorry for the grammar and spelling mistakes, my english isnt AS Good AS its used to be…

    Greets from germany :)

  6. Craig i say the same thing in the other thread , whoever think this team will be better w/o Kobe Bryant needs to stop eating crayolas. Really happy for the Spaniard i tought he would regress w/o Kobe to push him but he was excellent last night. The next 2 games are really tough nuts to crack.

  7. Great game–maybe my favorite this season. D’Antoni/Rambis can coach. Gasol can lead. Chemistry is terrific. This team can win.

    What am I saying? Why aren’t they helpless and hopeless without either Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant to lead them? Was this victory just a fluke? Are the Warriors going to beat them by 40 tomorrow night?

  8. I’m hoping we carry over this momentum to Golden State. Their team might be struggling at the moment but they are a potent team shooting the ball esp at home. If we win the game, hoping we would, we would be sporting a better record than them and sole owner of 9th seed. These are games we need to win in order to secure being in the playoffs. 41-41 might not cut it.

  9. I dont know Warren, GS is finally healthy and we dont have anyone to realistically stop Curr and Clay and they have Iggy back and lets not even begin about the Heat. These next 3 games are tough. I wont be surprised to go 0-3. About Kobe, the team was staring to adjust to him and he was looking to spread the wealth while playing out of position while coming back from a devastating injury, most of his tos were the result of him passing the ball, obviously he was adjusting to the team strenghts too, after the Memphis game it looked like the team was moving on the right direction and then this happened. Kobe Bryant is a mutant, unbeliavable, he played part of the 2nd half and carried the team down the stretch with all the handicaps mentioned above and with a broken knee, how is the team better without having that kind of leadership, skill and determination?

  10. Gasol hit 2 – totally lucky! – somewhat clutch shots in the 4th qrtr. I say that as a huge Gasol fan who enjoyed “laughing w/him” when they went in (and he laughed too, including his big celebration w/SwaggyP after that 24-sec-clock-buzzer-beating 3 pointer). As we used to say on the playground, “well, it went in! those count too!” Just one part of an entertaining game, great to watch good guys like Pau and Young succeed.

  11. Craig W/T Rogers: Decent points on both sides. Obviously I am going with Craig’s side on this, however, the issue is that either way, we are not in a good spot. If you do not like or think we play better without Kobe, then you must realize that we have Kobe for 2 1/2 more years and he occupies a large chunk of our cap. So what is the plan? Where we finish record wise this year does not change that issue. On the other side, if Kobe comes back later this year, there will be another inevitable readjustment period. More importantly, either way what does it mean for our FA plans? Do we get guys to compliment Kobe or more chaotic players for the Chaos Team? Yes – yes – I know – we let them play- see what happens on the floor, we see what happens with Kobe’s health and then we worry about this. We have no choice – but in the end – one way or another this issue will return. Beach Boy fans can rejoice – as Fun Fun Fun plays at Staples. Metallica fans remain concerned as the only thing we can hear are the heavy power chords of “Sad but True”.

  12. I remember when Maury Wills first came up with the Dodgers – he was like 26yrs old and not expected to stick in the majors. Then he started stealing bases and that was it – he had a career. Well, on some of his steals the catcher threw the ball into center field and he went to third. That was about as lucky as Pau hitting that 3 last night. Pau has actually tried a number of those in games and some of them went in. That is muscle memory developing. Well, it paid off last night.

    It was a really fun game to watch. Much of that derives from the fact that the team simply had to keep moving for 48 minutes to have a chance – and they did. Without Kobe it is clear why the Lakers need Swaggy P – someone with ice in their veins, who can actually hit a tough shoot under heavy pressure. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t need Kobe in those situations. I have often heard that MDA was an ok coach during the season, but wait for the playoffs and he will get outcoached. Well, it is during the playoffs that you need a Kobe Bryant to help carry the team through the tough, tough defense played. Now, when you have one day, at most, to prepare for a team, it is harder to deal with what the Lakers do. Later we could be in the same position we were in San Antonio and we will need Kobe to avoid a sweep. Even with him we may lose, but our opponent will know they have been in a real series. If we don’t make a blockbuster trade, that is the position I want to be in, come Spring.

  13. The team obviously has been better *so far* without Kobe. They are 11-9 without him, a 45-win pace. Whether that will hold up remains to be seen. Also, I think people who occasionally say “and they are without Nash” need to realize that Nash was playing very, very poorly–below replacement level. Losing him was a positive, not a negative.

    And Robert is obviously correct. It’s great that people enjoy this team and think it’s fun, but the big picture is still what it is.

  14. Rusty Shackleford December 21, 2013 at 8:50 am

    At least we aren’t the Nets.

  15. Of course I’m not saying the Lakers don’t need Kobe Bryant. What I’m saying is let’s think of what/who Kobe is right now. I’m not talking about our idea of who we think Kobe will be once everything is right again. I’m talking about the guy who never got a chance to truly get his rhythm back after the Achilles injury. Now he will be gone for nearly two more months. Meanwhile the rest of the team is solidifying an identity without him.

    Now this is not uncommon. Other teams deal with this kind of thing all the time. What’s different here is Kobe’s role with the team. He is not coming in and just going with the flow. He’s playing the minutes he wants and changing the team to fit his preferred style of play. As a result everyone else gets thrown off. And of course none of the other guys can say anything about it. But the frustration shows in their play.

  16. rr: “Also, I think people who occasionally say “and they are without Nash” need to realize that Nash was playing very, very poorly–below replacement level. Losing him was a positive, not a negative.”

    Not sure that’s what most people mean when they say they’re without Nash. When I think of being without Nash, it’s in the sense that they’ve been without a healthy Nash, and he wasn’t healthy at all to start the year when he was playing.

  17. T Rogers: “Of course I’m not saying the Lakers don’t need Kobe Bryant. ” I understand you are not anti-Kobe And as I stated above – you make decent points. But what is the end game? Kobe comes back and transforms himself into a member of the Chaos Team? Isn’t he a little expensive for that? And weren’t we talking about that when the team was 10-9? Or perhaps, Kobe does not come back at all and the Chaos Team finishes the year? What does that mean for the off season? Give me a plausible scenario that allows us to do anything positive for the future.
    All: I think we are back in a mode where there are two discussions. One is the present “fun” discussion, and the other is the longer term future of the team. I will pledge this to the board. I will not bring up the “future” when others just want to speak about “fun”. Just try to refrain from saying it is more fun than ….., or we are so much better off without …… These will have to be responded to : )

  18. I thought MDA’s praise for Nick Young was awesome, and I think it will only lead to him playing better (and getting better) as the season progresses. Young has his flaws, but it is unmistakable that he has incredible scoring ability and can flat out be unstoppable when he is locked in.
    All of these young players are building their confidence together and MDA is facilitating that by letting them play the way they know how, rather than play within a system the way their past NBA coaches tried to have them play. Confidence is huge, and when Kobe does return, and the Lakers do play a more structured game, these young players will feel more comfortable executing because they won’t feel like they are auditioning they way they might have felt before on past teams.

  19. This was an emotional win. We’ll need to see if this is sustainable before we get carried away. Based on historical stats for key contributors (Young/Henry/Meeks/Johnson) a return the mean is expected. When that happens we won’t be as successful. However, this may be a good year to be entertaining/competitive and not focused so much on W’s.

  20. You guys can beef as much as you want about this team being better w/ or w/o Kobe, but I’ll tell you what, this team FUNCTIONS better w/o him…and truly appear to be having more fun. That Gasol/Young “big grin” exchange was very reminiscent of a former Laker who wore #12, which many thought wasn’t serious enough to be a Laker.

    ESPN posted this cute stat:

    Since Kobe’s return, the Lakers have been better offensively with Bryant on the bench.
    [-]
    Lakers With Kobe On/Off Court – 6 Games Kobe played
    Court: On Off
    Minutes 177 111
    Pts diff -32 -18
    TO pct 19% 11%
    Off effic 97.4 104.6

  21. Minnesota is a different team on the road, so the Lakers beat another bad team. However, the lineup this season gives them several players who can attack the rim. Dunks and layups are still the best shots to take. It is amazing that Minnesota did not attack the Lakers as they brought the ball up court and exploit the lack of point guards. I doubt other teams will extend the same courtesy. It was impressive to see the Lakers keep their composure in the 4th when they had chances to fold.

  22. Ahh yes. Kobe played 6 games after recovering from the most devastating injury that a basketball player can have. He was rusty, didn’t participate in training camp, hadn’t practiced much with the team, and was a little over-weight. By all means- run with this storyline.

    Bottom line is that Kobe is here for another 2.5 years. Plenty of time for him to ruin this team’s chemistry! ;)

  23. Robert,
    You are right about the two faces of a Laker discussion – present and future. What is happening this year is very exciting, but if we didn’t progress beyond this, then our future would look more like the Bucks. However, this year is very much a part of our future direction.

    We have effectively lost all our veteran pieces – except Pau – and our front office chose to go with young players who someone else had drafted high and then given up on. We haven’t really had much to try for in the draft since Bynum. While the 1st round is 50% busts – therefore I don’t like tanking an entire season for a 50% of a useful player – most of the stars in the league come from the top 2/3s of the first round. All the players we have picked up were young, showed talent in some specific area, were relatively smart basketball players. We put them in a system, with a coach, that emphasizes energy and open court skill. These are things a first round draft choice has to have or they won’t be a first round choice. We have three of these people and two of them have already shown they probably will work out.

    Unless we are extremely lucky, none of these players will turn into a star, but they could be good support players. That makes them either good for us or good for trades. All teams need support players and we are developing our own.

    Kobe is a star – both on the court and from a business sense – therefore he has been taken care of. We still have a max slot for an incoming player who would like to play in Los Angeles next year. Kobe’s contract is only for two more years, so we will have another max slot at that time.

    IMO – we are doing a decent job of laying the groundwork for another successful Laker run in the future. Nothing is guaranteed, but our odds are better than a number of other clubs.

  24. Specifically, with a club like this, statistics don’t tell the entire story – you have to watch the games to understand the progress and why Kobe won’t destroy all these new players.

    You can see their confidence grow week-by-week. You can see, in how they bounced back when Kobe went down, that they are becoming stronger basketball players, not just very young NBA players. When Kobe comes back this is going to be a different club and his integration is going to have to be different than the first time. The team will be stronger and won’t defer as much to him. In that kind of environment Kobe thrives. In that kind of environment Kobe will be able to compete without thought about destroying his own teammates – they are now strong enough to battle back at him – and he loves that competitive atmosphere. He feels that type of team gives him the best chance to get another ring.

  25. It is amazing that Minnesota did not attack the Lakers as they brought the ball up court and exploit the lack of point guards.

    True indeed Baylor Fan. However, the Wolves aren’t the only team guilty of this. Ever since SB (Steve Blake) went down, I can’t recall any of the 4 teams – excluding the aforementioned Wolves – in which we’ve faced applying full court pressure against us. To the credit of D’Antoni, he definitely was prepared from the outset (the OKC game) for the possibility of opponents applying such pressure. By having Kobe – upon receiving the inbounds after a made basket – escalate the ball from the backcourt by way of 1 pass to the frontcourt, it nullified the opposition’s chances of pressuring our ball handlers. But as you alluded to, let’s see how long we’re able to get away with this going forward.

  26. A Lakers team without the Mamba is not a better team. Do you want to know how chemistry is built on a team? It’s built by players being similar in age, no tiered players, bonding through training camp and pre-season games. Has Kobe been present for any of that? No! Kobe speaks of playing for a championship and when he’s on the floor that’s his aim, not playing to have fun or make friends. That’s his hamartia as a basketball player, and ultimately is why he is injured at this stage in his career. The players play loser without Kobe because nothing is required of them, no expectations are present to prevent them from playing all out. Moreover, without Kobe they get more minutes, more opportunities to showcase their games for their next contract (never underestimate the energy players have when they are playing for a contract). Are they having fun, of course this team is having fun, they are playing devoid of any championship or playoff expectancy.

    At the age of 35 those six games that Kobe played were equivalent to the six pre-season games that this Lakers team had in cities like Ontario, Bakersfield, Fresno and San Diego. Only the very young looked worthy anything at that time, if I’m not mistaken only Xavier looked good in one game in Ontario. Nick in a couple and Farmar in a few more. So why wouldn’t Kobe look rusty after playing six games and coming off what for others would be a career ending injury? Last year when Howard came back earlier than he should have, instead of getting acclaim for playing earlier than expected, he too was maligned for being washed up and a blight on the Lakers offense. What have you done for me lately, attitude that is prevalent in today’s fan is unfathomable. When the Mamba finally retires and the Lakers are searching for the next great franchise player, many will lament the loss of a superstar that played through all adversity. Particularly when the next franchise player takes games off for hang nails and stomach aches.

    To all the people that proclaim Kobe’s inability to make other players better, sit down and listen to the soundbites of Henry and Young. Kobe is teaching them on his own, without even playing on the floor with them.

    Good emotional win last night. Tonight I look to see Marshall on the floor to defend against Clay.

  27. I’d urge caution in saying that the team is better off without Kobe, even if the statistics seem to bear this out (11-9 without Kobe, 2-4 with him). After all, Kobe came back out of shape, struggling to round into mid-season form, trying to find his timing and his shot, and, let us not forget, not having played for 8 months. Also, he didn’t have the benefit of playing along side Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake.

    Also, 6 games with Kobe playing very much out-of-position is just not an adequate (or fair) statistical sample. We’d need Kobe to play another 10-20 games (so that adjustments can be made and Kobe can return to a semblance of full health and strength) before we pass judgement.

    That said, common sense just dictates that the team–over time–would be better off with Kobe, especially in the playoffs (should the Lakers get that far) where you need veteran leadership, poise, and experience.

    Bottom line: the Lakers are NOT better off without Kobe.

  28. Tale of 2 Lakers teams. 1) Exciting Lakers team with better chance to win without Kobe 2) Slow down porous defense loser Lakers team with Kobe.

    We’ll take Lakers team 1!

    Hold it! Mr. Bean is a leading all star vote recipient and a jersey sales leader. Kobe makes FO money, win or lose. Sorry Charlie. Mamba is on the floor when ever he is able. $78 million over next 2 1/2 seasons says so….

  29. Marinate on this…. The 2008 Lakers had a group of players called the “Bench Mob” that was up-tempo and fun and a slower, more methodical starting five. Why can’t we have both again? Instead of the slower team playing most of the minutes, why can’t the “Fun Bunch” get the most run when the Mamba comes back? I’m Just saying.

  30. The current personel, with this current coach and the current Kobe they are better

    In shape Kobe with a different coach they should be better.

  31. With Brook Lopez breaking his foot was the Kamen getting minutes a preview of a pending trade?

  32. I think this discussion about the LAkers being better without Kobe is superficial, at best. The issue isn’t Kobe per se. There are few of us on this planet who would argue that Kobe can’t play. He can dribble, he has great footwork. He can shoot. He finish at the rim. He can rebound. He can pass. He makes good decisions. Kobe is a capable player. The same can be said of Pau. The things we saw from this team while Kobe was back was not dissimilar that what we saw last year, pre-injury. It is similar to what we saw for a few years. Ever since Pau and Kobe lost that step on defense, this team has struggled at forcing TOs, running fast breaks and stopping fast breaks. They have had a difficult time stopping penetration and containing it once it occurred.

    There is a reason we are enjoying this team. They fly around the court. They hustle. They force teams into errors. They attack the basket. They move on defense. All that, when done with a plan, makes teams successful. You can’t do that when you have one player on the outside, and another on the interior, that are too slow to account for. You can’t cover for Kobe and for PAu’s defensive issues.

    I am not advocating for a trade. I’m just saying, if Kobe were to return to a team with Tyson Chandler in the middle, you will still see a team that plays like we saw last night. Kobe is not bogging the team down. The synergy of Pau/Kobe is no longer competitive in this very fast league.

  33. C.Hearn: Nice post
    Busboys Yes – We discussed the Bench Mob in a few posts recently. The basic issue is what is the “default” style when there are mixed groups on the floor. The Bench Mob style only really applied for about 10 minutes max per game back in the day. Your basic point is correct however.
    Treylake: “better chance to win ” Win what exactly? As to the wisdom of the contract – no argument that it was a tad pre-mature.
    My question above: “Give me a plausible scenario that allows us to do anything positive for the future.” Craig gave me a decent response, but he is on the pro-Kobe side of this thread. Perhaps one of the not so pro-Kobe people can tell me what the end game is here. Sit Kobe out for the next 2 1/2 years, pay him his money, and finish in about 10th place? How are we going to get FAs?

  34. Thanks Robert.

    Kobe, as always, would be part of the squad that finished close games. If we were winning handily or losing mightily, Kobe would remain on the bench. But let the kids run from, say, 9 gone in the first quarter and for the first 5 minutes of the second. Let the Kobe squad end the half and the game for his clutchability.

    Give the “Fun Bunch” the bulk of the minutes at least until the playoffs. Why not?!?

  35. I’m of the opinion, Lakers ship might want to Pau by the deadline to a contender or a team lookg for a scoring big for picks and expiring contracts.. That is if the lakers are gettg real value.

    Xavier, Young, Meeks, Farmar,Johnson make a good crew of wing players… While keepg energy dirty work players Jhill and Sacre around…

    I still wish they cud get a top 5 lotto pick, but alas it won’t be hapng with this grup tryg get a boast in their FA contract

  36. it’s in the sense that they’ve been without a healthy Nash,

    Fine, but Nash broke his leg in his second game here, will be 40 in two months, and has never really been healthy as a Laker. To me, talking about a healthy Nash is almost like talking about a younger Pau or Kobe.