The Los Angeles Lakers played their first game since the hectic trade deadline deals, and something felt strange in the team locker-room. The Lakers traded away long-time player Derek Fisher, and as a result, lost their captain and vocal leader.
The Lakers did acquire Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill on deadline day, but Hill was the only one who could not play. Thus, the old Lakers had to find a way to go into battle without the captain that helped guide them to two championships in the last four seasons.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not had much success against the Lakers in the past several seasons, but Los Angeles was trying to beat off the shock from the trade more than the injured Wolves squad.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol was dominating the ball in the early going and it was clearly a relief for him to have survived the trade deadline. Gasol was bothered by all the trade rumors and it was nice to see him comfortable and confident on the court. Gasol scored the Lakers first four points and the team lead, 4-0 with 9:31 remaining in the quarter.
The Lakers’ offense became a little stagnant as the quarter progressed and their shots were not falling. However, Gasol was the team’s only bright spot and it was obvious that he wanted to send a message to the front office that it made the right choice to keep him. Gasol continued to the be the center piece to the offense and he scored six of the first nine points for the team, but the Lakers were up only 9-7 with 6:48 left in the period.
The offense for both teams got going as time went on and shots were finally beginning to fall. Bryant and Metta World Peace were hitting some perimeter shots and that added confidence to both of their games. Newest Laker Ramon Sessions made his team debut at the 2:51 mark of the first quarter, and at that point, Los Angeles held just a 16-15 advantage.
Sessions scored his first bucket just seconds after he subbed into the game and provided the team with a diminutive spark. And after 12 minutes of play, the Lakers had a 23-19 lead and Kobe Bryant led the way with nine points.
Sessions opened the period with the second unit and the coaching staff was trying to figure out which players and rotations the point guard best fits with. The offense was a little sloppy, but the turnovers were expected due to the lineup changes. However, Sessions slowly started to build confidence on both ends of the court, and as a result, the Lakers were up 28-21 at the 9:20 mark of the second.
The Lakers’ second unit kept their foot on the gas pedal and Sessions was quite impressive in that stretch. The reserves’ three-point shooting and Sessions’ speed were very impressive, and that helped the Lakers open up a double-digit lead. Everything was going the Lakers’ way, and even with the main stars on the bench, Sessions and the troops were up 38-27 at the 6:20 mark of the period.
Even with the stars back into the game, the Lakers continued the with the momentum and were in complete control of the game. The players were knocking down their shots and the great ball movement allowed them to get easy looks at the basket. Kobe Bryant was struggling from the field, but luckily, players like Barnes and Sessions allowed the team to maintain a double-digit lead, 42-30, with 3:20 left in the half.
At the conclusion of the second quarter, the Lakers were ahead by nine point, 50-41. Kobe Bryant was the team’s leading scorer with 11 points and Barnes and Sessions added in ten and six respectively.
Pau Gasol started the second half like he started the game – being aggressive and attacking the smaller Wolves team. Bynum also got into the action early, and, just like Gasol, the big man was trying to take advantage of Minnesota’s front line. However, the Lakers had trouble stopping the Wolves from scoring and their seven turnovers prevented them from opening up a big lead. At the 10:00 mark of the quarter, the Lakers were up 55-45.
Although Kobe Bryant was struggling from the field, he did nail all three of his three-point attempts and made big shots whenever the Wolves made a run. At times it looked like Minnesota would crawl back into the game, but the Lakers relied on Bryant to keep some separation. Gasol also continued to play well and his 6-12 shooting from the field allowed the Lakers to stay ahead by ten, 62-52 with 5:56 left in the third.
The team continued to play well and the starters were taking complete advantage of the Wolves’ less-talented lineup. Everything was going well for the Lakers and they were playing well on both ends of the court. The team was getting open looks with the ball in its hands and was also forcing the Wolves into tough perimeter shots deep into the shot clock. With 3:30 left in the quarter, the Lakers were up 68-52.
Kobe Bryant continued his hot shooting from behind the arc and finished the period with four from that land. The Wolves made a small run to end the period, but still, the Lakers were up by double-digits heading into the fourth quarter. With only 12 minutes left to play, the Lakers were up 74-61.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with their second unit and Ramon Sessions got some valuable playing time with his new teammates. Sessions was making some nice passes and was running the offense pretty well. His speed was a great asset for the Lakers and was something the team did not have at that position for quite some time. After the new Laker knocked down a free-throw, the Lakers were up 77-65 with 9:57 left in the game.
However, the Wolves made a push as the quarter went on, and the Lakers were on the verge of letting another double-digit lead go. The Lakers have had times this season where they allowed opponents to creep back into the game, and this time, the Wolves were down by just seven, 79-72, at the 7:30 mark of the period.
Nevertheless, the Lakers made key plays when it seemed as though the Wolves would make a late comeback. The Lakers were making key defensive stops and were knocking down shots with the ball in their hands to bring the lead back up to ten, 82-72.
In the final four minutes of the game, the Lakers showed poise and kept the Wolves away. Los Angeles exhibited its veteran characteristics and understood what it needed to do in order to walk away with the victory. By beating the Wolves, 97-92, the Lakers won their fifth consecutive game and their first since the Derek Fisher trade.
It was a great overall game and Kobe Bryant led the team with 26 points while Ramon Sessions added in seven points and five assists.
The Lakers will be back in action on Sunday when they host the Utah Jazz at 6:30 p.m. PST.