Lakers Start Strong, Hold On In Road Win Over Timberwolves

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota TimberwolvesAfter a disappointing loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, the Lakers were back in action Friday in Minnesota. It was the second game of their seven-game road trip, and was an opportunity for the team to finally get things going away from the Staples Center. The team was just 5-16 on the road entering Friday’s matchup, and were looking to take advantage of a beat-up Timberwolves squad in Minnesota. The thermometer was below zero, but the Lakers were hoping to turn up the heat inside the Target Center.

Prior to the game, Los Angeles found out they would be without Dwight Howard, who flew back to Los Angeles to get treatment on his injured shoulder. The Lakers, who were 0-3 without Howard prior to Friday night, were hoping Pau Gasol would step up in Howard’s stead in his first start since January 20th.

First Quarter

The Lakers started hot in Minnesota, and ran out to an early lead on the Timberwolves. One question was whether or not Kobe would still be in facilitator mode after reverting a bit at the end of Wednesday’s game in Phoenix. Kobe definitely was looking to pass early, and the team thrived off his and Steve Nash’s teamwork. Pau Gasol led the way offensively in the first quarter, reaching double-digits early in the contest.

It was nice seeing the team respond well after a disappointing finish against the Suns, especially in the wake of the loss of Dwight Howard. The team looked strong offensively in the first period. They were moving the ball well and played superb team basketball. By the end of the first 12 minutes the Lakers were leading the Timberwolves 37-24.

Second Quarter

After a remarkably hot first quarter, things got even better for the Lakers in the second. Midway through the quarter seven different Lakers players had hit three-point baskets. Even Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake came off the bench to hit long-range shots, and the team was absolutely firing on all cylinders. Gasol scored 13 points in the first 16 minutes of the game, and was the offensive anchor for a team that scored 58 points in a quarter and a half.

However, as we’ve seen so many times before, the Lakers collapsed. While they were red hot from outside in the first 20 minutes of the game, they cooled off tremendously in the second half of the second quarter. Minnesota got hot from outside, and began to inch closer and closer late in the second period. Los Angeles continued to settle for outside jumpers, and since they weren’t falling the T’Wolves managed to make it into a game.

At the end of the first half the Lakers were still holding a fairly comfortable lead, 68-53.

Third Quarter

Things got even dicier for the Lakers in the third quarter. Minnesota continued to crawl back into the game and cut it to single digits midway through the period. Los Angeles had no rhythm offensively, and couldn’t establish any sort of momentum. Meanwhile, Minnesota used the opportunities provided by missed Laker jump shots to run and get open looks on the other end of the floor.

With the team struggling to make outside shots, the offense fell quiet. Bryant tried to move the ball and play the facilitator role, but the rest of the guys on the floor seemed hesitant with the ball, and uncomfortable when forced to shoot.

By the time the quarter ended the Lakers, who once again struggled to find a way to beat the zone defense, saw their once 29-point lead evaporate by 20 points. With just 12 minutes left in the game the Lakers lead was down to nine, 85-76.

Fourth Quarter

Minnesota was able to withstand the Lakers’ early barrage from outside and baffle the team with their zone defense in the second half. Los Angeles was 5-32 from the floor once Rick Adelman went to the zone, and the Lakers saw their lead grow smaller and smaller. Minnesota had a huge boost from Alexey Shved, who gave the team an enormous lift in the final quarter. Shved hit multiple three-point attempts, and pulled the T’Wolves back within four with a late-game breakaway dunk.

One of the biggest reasons the Lakers saw their once massive lead disintegrate was their complacency on the offensive end. They took far too many outside shots, surpassing 30 three-point attempts midway through the fourth. Even despite their hot start from outside, the Lakers failed to remember that they’re anything but an outside shooting team. Minnesota waited out the hot start and saw the Lakers come crashing back to reality as the game progressed.

Despite all the things that seemed to go wrong for the Lakers from the second quarter through the end of the game, they managed to do just enough to hang onto their lead. Kobe Bryant put up another well-rounded effort, falling just short of a triple-double for the fourth consecutive game. Bryant helped get his teammates involved early and often, but his biggest contributions were on the boards. Bryant put forth a ton of effort on the offensive boards, and helped snag several offensive rebounds late in the game that resulted in crucial Los Angeles buckets.

A few big shots down the stretch and some key misses from Minnesota was enough for the Lakers to sneak away from Minnesota with a victory. Pau Gasol played strong in the fourth, and hit some crucial free throws to help seal the game down the stretch. The team earned it’s first road win of 2013, defeating Minnesota 111-100.

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