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:
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.