The Lakers were back in action on Wednesday night after losing three consecutive games. The team reached (their latest) low point of the season on Monday when they were run out of the building by the Warriors up in Oakland. Thankfully for L.A. they found themselves up against the Timberwolves, a team that hasn’t defeated the Lakers since March of 2007.
For Los Angeles the day started off on a somber note, as they found out that Metta World Peace will miss (at least) the rest of the regular season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. With Jodie Meeks in the starting lineup for World Peace and Kobe shifted over to small forward, the team would once again be adjusting their rotation due to injuries.
The start of the game was sloppy at best. The first few possessions both squads looked disjointed and unsettled. Things did begin to settle down a bit as the Lakers made emphasized Dwight Howard in the post. The team also got an early boost from Pau Gasol, who has been practically nonexistent since his return from his injured foot. Gasol started 3-3 from the field for six of the Lakers’ first nine points, which was an optimistic sign for L.A.
Like we’ve seen many times before, however, the Lakers struggled on the defensive end of the ball. The Lakers routinely gave up open looks, as Minnesota (even without Kevin Love) found success both in the paint and beyond the perimeter. Another problem the Lakers dealt with that we’ve seen plenty of this season was turnovers. L.A. turned it over four times in the first six minutes of the game, leading to six Minnesota points.
Still, even though the Lakers struggled in the first period on both offense and defense, they managed to keep the game close, and led 26-23.
The Lakers looked to get off to a better start in the second quarter and clean up the countless turnovers and missed defensive assignments. With the absence of World Peace, it would be important for other players to ramp up their own energy levels for the Lakers to extend their lead. The quarter did not get off to a good start, however, with their eighth turnover of the game. The ninth immediately followed as the Timberwolves capitalized on both and regained the lead.
The Lakers did not score until a long two from Jamison three minutes into the quarter and L.A.’s offense looked as disjointed as it has all season. Jamison, however, continued to play well with six straight points for the Lakers as he carried the offense with a short stretch. Minnesota continued to miss shots, mitigating the effects of their countless turnovers. The Lakers even stretched the lead to five on a three point play from Dwight while the Wolves continued their scoring drought and at one point shot just 30 percent.
With just under six minutes to go, both Kobe and Pau returned with L.A. up by six. Mike D’Antoni elected to keep both Pau and Dwight on the floor at the same time to end the half. The presence of both seven footers on the floor was immediately felt, as Gasol and Howard controlled the paint on offense and defense.
Several thunderous dunks from Kobe with the help of poor shooting from the Wolves led the Lakers to a 50-46 lead at halftime despite their sloppy play.
The only factor preventing the Lakers from blowing this game open in the first half was the unfortunate plethora of turnovers. Energy and attention to detail would be the keys in the second half leading the Lakers to a win while more turnovers could easily result in a loss.
The Lakers got their ideal start to the third quarter with five quick points in the first minute giving them their largest lead of the game at nine. The Wolves remained sloppy and soon joined the Lakers with double digit turnovers but the Lakers simply refused to clean up their act. A pretty hook shot from Gasol, who was clearly energized all night, expanded the Lakers lead to twelve as the Lakers went on a 15-3 run. Dwight, however, picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, forcing him to leave the game and exposing Pau as the last line of defense.
The two teams traded buckets for several minutes, as the Lakers held a consistent cushion. Nash and Bryant paced the offense for L.A. while Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio answered back for the Wolves. Towards the latter half of the quarter, though, the Lakers began to see their cushion vanish and more turnovers allowed the Wolves to cut the deficit back down to seven. The Lakers had answers when Kobe nailed a deep three before Jamison converted a four point play on the ensuing possession. The lead was suddenly back to fourteen.
The Lakers began to heat up again towards the end of the quarter and had a 91-79 lead when it ended.
The Lakers entered the fourth with the simple task of maintaining a double digit lead but have already failed at this task multiple times this year. L.A. did not get off to a great start, either, as they immediately allowed a three point play and missed several opening shots. The lead was quickly trimmed to seven with Kobe on the bench as J.J. Barea was wreaking havoc. The first score for the purple and gold came on a putback dunk from Dwight, who continue to dominate on the inside. A beautiful left handed finish from Howard stretched the Laker lead back to double digits.
The Lakers and Timberwolves continued to battle in the fourth, but the Lakers had a response for every Minnesota basket. Antawn Jamison continued to be a consistent source of offense while moving off the ball as Dwight dominated the offensive glass and in the post. Kobe reentered the game for L.A. with just below eight minutes remaining and the Lakers up by ten. Turnovers continued to be a problem for both teams, however, as even Kobe and Nash committed several key mistakes but Dwight Howard came up big late despite missing several free throws after being intentionally fouled.
Despite an onslaught of turnovers throughout the game, the Lakers won the first of a back to back against the Wolves by a score of 120-117.