The Lakers were the hottest team in the NBA, and they were making a strong push for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Although the Lakers had beaten many upper echelon teams, they had to knock off sub-par squads in order to receive the best seed possible.
Despite the fact that the Lakers were 10-1 since the All-Star break, they were unable to find success in the first quarter of tonight’s game. The Wolves were matching the Lakers every move, and the young team was hanging tough in the opening period. The Lakers offense was sporadic while the Wolves found easy shots in transition. At the 3:30 mark of the opening period, the Wolves tied the game at 15 after an ally-oop slam by Michael Beasley.
Kobe was having difficulties finding an offensive rhythm, and the other Lakers players were unable to knock down open shots. The Wolves went on a 14-0 run late in the first quarter, and they opened up a double-digit lead on the defending champions. As the team headed to the bench after the conclusion of the first quarter, the Wolves were leading by six points, 27-21.
The Lakers’ reserves offered the team a much needed spark and their offensive execution allowed the Lakers to cut the lead down to one, 31-30. Unlike their performance in the opening quarter, the Lakers were finding success on the offensive end and they were hitting easy buckets in the paint. However, Los Angeles could not stop the young Wolves from scoring and Lakers were allowing them to shot wide-open jump shots.
Rookie Wesley Johnson was clicking on all cylinders, and he had an answer to the Lakers’ every basket. Instead of a prolific scoring performance by Love or Beasley, the Wolves were riding Johnson and he helped them carry a lead into half-time.
After two mediocre quarters, the Lakers found themselves trailing by only two points, 51-49. Kobe hit two consecutive threes to end the half, but he was unable to give the Lakers the lead heading into the locker-room. As for the Wolves, their leading scorer was Johnson with 17 points and the team was collective shooting 44% from the field.
In an effort to galvanize the Lakers on the offensive end, Phil Jackson decided to start Shannon Brown in the second half instead of Kobe Bryant. Brown provided an immediate spark for the Lakers, and his three-point shooting allowed the Lakers to regain the lead early in the third quarter. At the 5:10 point of the period, the Lakers found themselves ahead by two points, 66-64.
The Lakers never put together an impressive run, and they could not use the energy from the Staples Center crowd to pull away from the Wolves. The Lakers and Wolves traded baskets, and neither team opened up a lead larger than seven in the third quarter. Heading into the final quarter of regulation the Lakers had a four point lead, 78-74.
The Lakers expanded their lead to six early on in the fourth quarter, but the Wolves responded with their own run to tie the game at 82 with 8:44 remaining in the game. Matt Barnes played an efficient fourth quarter, and he scored the majority of his points at the free-throw line. With Kobe on the bench, the Lakers hoped to get the most out of their reserves so the Mamba could rest his legs for the final stretch of the game.
However, the substitutes were quickly taken out of the game when they got involved in a verbal altercation with Wolves’ forward Michael Beasley. After Bynum committed a hard foul on Beasley, several players became irate and the referees had to clean up the fight. As part of their punishment decision, the refs gave Beasley a technical and they ejected center Andrew Bynum. Once the entire situation was handled and all the free-throws were attempted, the Wolves were leading 89-88 with 6:05 left in the game.
The final five minutes of the game were intense and both teams were doing everything they could to escape with a victory. Nevertheless, the Lakers eventually prevailed due to the clutch play of Kobe Bryant and the other veteran leaders. After 48 minutes of grueling basketball, the Lakers avoided embarrassment and knocked-off the young Timberwolves,106-98.
The Lakers’ leading scorers were Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant with 25 and 18 points respectively , but most importantly the team improved to a record of 49-20 and opened up a one game lead on the Mavericks for the second seed in the Western Conference standings.