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Game Report: Lakers defeat Timberwolves 111-100

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The Lakers rebounded from a loss in Phoenix by rebounding in a win in Minnesota.

The Lakers dominated the Wolves 57-40 on the boards. With Dwight Howard sitting out with a re-aggravated shoulder, his teammates all chipped in to fill the void, and an incredible six Lakers ended up pulling down at least seven rebounds on the night.

While I cannot tell you the last time that happened in the NBA, I can assure you it doesn’t happen very often.  kobe-bryant-ricky-rubio-timberwolves

The Lakers’ ball movement was good tonight as well. Even when the Lakers went very, very cold under a prolonged Minnesota zone defense, it was my sense that they were still moving the ball well on the perimeter, but were just missing open looks.

You can argue that they should have been trying harder to attack, but D’Antoni wants his guys shooting jumpers if they’re open, and – for the most part – they were.

The Lakers ended up with 27 assists on 39 baskets, for an assist rate of 69%. They did a nice job of taking care of the ball as well, committing just 12 turnovers on the night.

In the process of grabbing those boards and moving the ball, they ended an eight-game road losing streak.

There was no clear star of this game for the Lakers – a lot of players played well.

For the fifth straight game, Kobe Bryant acted as primary facilitator, and the Lakers have now won four of those games. Kobe again fell just shy of a triple double, finishing the game with 17 points (but on just 4 of 13 shooting), 12 rebounds, and eight assists (against four turnovers).

Steve Nash had a hyper-efficient game, scoring 17 points (on 6 of 9 shooting), grabbing a season-high seven rebounds, and dishing out seven assists (against 0 turnovers). And, in rather astounding fashion, he contributed two blocked shots on the night. The 17-year veteran now has 99 on his career….

Pau Gasol looked good as the team’s starting center in Dwight’s absence. He had a team high 22 points (on 8 of 15 shooting), grabbed 12 rebounds and had two assists (against one turnover). He also had three blocks and shot 5 of 5 from the free throw line – which hopefully puts an end to his recent free-throw shooting woes.

Earl Clark had a double-double tonight with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and led the team in plus-minus at +17.

Antawn Jamison led another solid effort from the Lakers’ bench with 18 points and seven rebounds.

The Lakers achieved a few milestones tonight as well:

  • With two steals, Metta World Peace passed Hersey Hawkins for 22nd place all-time at 1,623.
  • By playing in his 1,208th game, Kobe Bryant passed former teammate Shaquille O’Neal for 24th place all-time.
  • With four field goals made, Kobe Bryant tied Hakeem Olajuwon for 7th place all-time at 10,749.
  • With eight free throws made, Kobe Bryant passed Oscar Robertson for 3rd place all-time at 7,701.

It needs to be said that the Lakers allowed a 29 point second-quarter lead to dwindle to just four points in the fourth quarter, before eventually winning by 11. But during that time I thought they continued to play well – taking but missing good perimeter shots in the face of Minnesota’s zone defense.

I was also impressed by the Lakers’ demeanor during this cold stretch – especially Kobe’s. There was no visible panic among the Lakers, and very little show of frustration. They continued to have faith in their game plan, and Kobe continued to have faith that his role as facilitator would help the team – and it did.

The Lakers are a visibly better team with Kobe taking on the point guard role, and Steve Nash taking on the shooting guard role. On the surface this makes no sense, as Kobe is clearly a better scorer than Nash, and Nash is clearly a better passer (and decision-maker) than Kobe.

One of the reasons it works, of course, is that Nash is still a very good scorer, and Kobe is still a very good passer. But the main reason it works is that with Kobe fully embracing the role of facilitator it sends a very, very strong message to his teammates: It says, “I trust you.”

That doesn’t just mean a lot to young guys like Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks, or to seasoned veterans like Metta World Peace and Steve Blake. Coming from one of the greatest players of all time, it means a lot to past all-stars like Pau Gasol and to future hall-of-famers like Steve Nash as well.

And all of the positive vibes that trust is creating are transforming this group of guys – right before our eyes – into a team.

Lakers’ Player of the Game

Player of the game could easily go to Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash, but tonight I am awarding it to Pau Gasol, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, he put up very good numbers. He scored a team-high 22 points on 8 of 15 shooting, pulled down 12 rebounds, blocked three shots, and dished out two assists.

The second reason, though, was that with Dwight Howard out, Lakers fans surely caught themselves thinking, “Okay, Pau. You’ve been upset with your bench-role, but now you’re the starter – show us what you can do.” And he clearly delivered.

Tonight’s Top Two Tweets in my Twitter Feed

“Kobe Bryant has 8+ assists in 5 straight games for the first time in his career.” – @ESPNStatsInfo, post-game tweet

“Things to be upset about from this game. The winning part is not one of them. Ha. I’ll take it and move on.” – @ForumBlueGold, post-game tweet

Next Game

Sunday, February 3 at the Detroit Pistons, 10:00 a.m. PST

About Craig Lawson

Craig Lawson is a Canadian who works during the day and enjoys writing about basketball at night (from the comfort of his wifi-equipped igloo). You can read all his posts at www.steve-nash-chronicles.com, and follow him on twitter @stevenashchroni.

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