It is finally that time of the year, where the leaves on the trees are changing colors and the Los Angeles Lakers are playing basketball. The Lakers will face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first of a long 82-game season.
Kobe Bryant will set an NBA record tonight for the most seasons with one franchise as he starts his 20th campaign with the Lakers. Kobe is coming off of yet another season-ending injury and he will hope to stay healthy in what many assume will be the final season of his career.
Lakers No. 2 two overall draft pick, D’Angelo Russell, will make his NBA debut tonight against Timberwolves No. 1 overall draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, who is making his debut as well. The two rookies have developed a friendship over the summer and are looking forward to competing against each other in their first matchup of their young careers.
Prior to tip-off the Lakers held a moment of silence to honor the late head coach of the Timberwolves, Flip Saunders, who passed away earlier this week. The Lakers also paid tribute to Saunders, wearing shooting shirts with Flip’s name across the front.
The Wolves won the tip and scored on their first possession, swinging the ball around to an open Ricky Rubio in the corner for three. Two possessions later, Jordan Clarkson turned the corner off of a pick and converted a nice finger roll for the Lakers’ first field goal of the season. On the defensive end, Julius Randle and Hibbert fought for a defensive rebound but ultimately lost the ball, which landed in the hands of Towns who dunked in his first two points of his career. The following Lakers possession, Kobe Bryant caught the ball in the midpost and made a face-up jumper over Andrew Wiggins. D’Angelo Russell picked up his second personal foul with 6:04 remaining in the quarter, and was replaced by reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams. With just under four minutes remaining in the first, Randle caught the ball in the paint and dunked it home, cutting the Wolves lead to 17-16. Nick Young drilled a buzzer beater from a step in front of half-court, capping a 21-5 run, and giving the Lakers a 31-22 advantage to end the first.
The Lakers began the second quarter with Huertas, Williams, Young, Kelly, and Bass. Williams blew by Zach Lavine for the reverse layup, getting a nice reaction from the Staples Center crowd. Huertas, who is also making his NBA debut, has a knack for finding the open man, and this time he found Young open for a three. Kobe checked back into the game, put together a series of crossovers and nailed a pull-up jumper from the top of the key, increasing the Lakers’ lead to 13 points. Kobe made his next two field goals: one of them a deep three with the shot clock expiring and the other off of his signature turnaround jumper over the outstretched arms of Tayshaun Prince. Things got chippy with three minutes remaining, as Garnett and Randle got tangled up under the rim jostling for a rebound. The two exchanged a few words, but Garnett was hit with the technical foul. D’Angelo Russell finally scored his first two points of his NBA career with 2:01 left in the half with a jumper off after Randle freed him up with a screen. The Lakers continued to control the tempo on both ends of the floor and went into halftime with a 60-51 lead.
Randle started the second half strong, rebounding his own miss, drawing the foul, and converting a three-point play. The Lakers got in foul trouble early in the third, committing three team fouls with 9:42 remaining in the quarter. Kobe Bryant curled strong off of a Hibbert handoff, stopped on a dime, and made a free-throw line jumper over Prince plus the foul. Kobe continued his hot shooting from deep, making a pull-up three off of Hibbert’s, giving him 21 points. With the Wolves down 15, Rubio stopped on a dime, drew a foul from Russell, and converted a three-point play. Randle displayed how he can be dominant in this league when he grabbed a rebound and took it coast-to-coast for a layup, giving the Lakers a 75-63 lead. Rubio continued his impressive play, easily driving past Russell for a layup, giving him 19 points. The Lakers began to get a bit lazy on defense after committing several fouls allowing the Wolves to go on a quick 7-0 run, reducing the Lakers lead to just eight points. Young halted the run with his hot shooting from the three-point line, knocking down back-to-back threes, putting the Lakers up 93-81 with 1:33 remaining in the third. Lavine scored the last bucket of the third with two seconds left and the Lakers went into the fourth with a 95-88 lead.
Kevin Martin drew a foul on Marcelo Huertas to earn three free throws as the T-Wolves cut the Laker lead down to four. Those were the only points for either team early as both offenses struggled. Huertas finally got the Lakers first basket of the quarter with a nice layup to keep the Lakers ahead 97-91. LaVine got a layup in transition and Rubio continued his strong night with a jumper to bring Minnesota within two points at 97-95 with under eight minutes remaining. Towns hit a fadeaway over Hibbert to tie the game at 97 and Rubio drove in for a layup to give the T-Wolves their first lead since the second quarter. Clarkson quickly responded with a jumper, but Rubio matched him on the other end. Wiggins split a pair of free throws and Clarkson hit another mid-range jumper to bring the Lakers within 102-101. Another Rubio jumper gave him a career high 27 points and Wiggins hit a pair of free throws as Minnesota pulled ahead by six with less than three minutes remaining. A three from Bjelica gave the T-Wolves a nine point lead. Kobe made three free throws and the Lakers came up with a steal, but were unable to take advantage. A Randle layup brought the Lakers within five with 1:09 remaining. Clakson drew a foul but split the free throws as the Lakers remained down by four. The Lakers got a stop and Williams hit a huge three to bring the Lakers within a point. Williams got a great look but missed the floater at the buzzer as the Lakers fell 112-111.