The Los Angeles Lakers are two games into their annual Grammys road trip, and in each contest, we’ve seen them give up big-time leads.
The Minnesota Timberwolves made things interesting Friday night, as they never quit after falling behind early. But the talent of L.A. proved to be too much, and the Lakers escaped with the 111-100 win.
L.A. began this game with all the momentum. The team made seven of their first nine shots and had assists on all but one of those buckets. It’s been painfully obvious that this group struggles when it doesn't move the ball, but teamwork and smart passes are what helped establish a 37-24 lead after the first period.
Three-point shooting was the other area that helped L.A. jump out to a hot start. While Minnesota was a perfect 3-of-3 halfway through the second quarter, Los Angeles was an impressive 9-of-11. At one point in the period, the Lakers had a 15-0 run, and it looked as if nobody could miss.
But as we’ve learned time and time again, the NBA is a game of runs, and the Timberwolves would get theirs before the half was over.
Minnesota put together a 14-1 run near the end of the second quarter, and L.A.’s lead was cut to 15 by halftime. Five minutes into the third, the Lakers had just four points on 0-of-6 shooting and were allowing Minnesota to get out and make plays in transition.
Despite holding a 29-point advantage at one point in the first half, the Lakers led just 85-76 heading into the final 12 minutes.
L.A. began the game 25-of-35 from the field, but went on to make just five of their next 33 shots as the fourth quarter began.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they were able to find their offense once again, scoring 26 points in the period.
This game was full of ups and downs for L.A.
While a win over Minnesota is good for the playoff race out West, the Lakers have to keep the wins coming if they want to truly challenge for a spot in the postseason.
As Kobe Bryant's role as facilitator has increased, Steve Nash's production has fluctuated. Without the ball in his hands, Nash has been less effective as a floor general, but he made sure to leave his mark Friday night against Minnesota.
By the time this one was done, Nash had recorded 17 points, seven assists and an impressive seven rebounds. He shot extremely well, going 6-of-9 from the field and making all three of his attempts from long range.
Defensively, Nash struggled to slow down a group of quick Minnesota point guards. Whether it was Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved or Luke Ridnour, the opposing players had their way with Nash, which led to a handful of easy buckets down low.
In what might be the strangest stat of the night, Nash tied a career high with two blocks. Those blocks don't make up for his struggles, but they show he never gives up on plays.
Kobe Bryant has proven throughout his career that he can do more than just score, but the past few games have shown that he has the willingness to make plays first and look for his points second.
To begin this game, Bryant was making his mark all over the stat sheet. He finished the opening period with seven points, six rebounds and four assists, and he wasn't forcing shots that weren't already there.
Bryant showed just how smart he can be with the ball, as he took complete advantage of a smaller Luke Ridnour every time they matched up one-on-one. The 2-guard knew when to attack, when to slow down and when to find his teammates.
When Kobe starts the game looking for others, good things happen.
He finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. While his shooting percentage was awful, he made up for it by shooting 8-of-10 from the line.
Despite Bryant's new mentality, he's received criticism for bad shot selection late in games. But while it's important for him to be the No. 1 option, it's more important that he simply makes the right plays.
And that's what he did Friday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers came out firing, and their entire starting lineup was playing an extremely efficient brand of basketball.
Well, everyone except Metta World Peace, that is.
The starting small forward has struggled to find his shot of late. He's not afraid to launch it from deep, and while you need that mentality to keep defenses honest, you'd like to see him complete a higher percentage.
He did manage to record seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, which saves him from earning a failing grade. But those numbers do little to make up for his offensive deficiencies.
World Peace finished 2-of-11 from the field, and he only managed to knock down one of his six three-point attempts.
In a game like this one, where the hot start simply isn't there, a better showing is going to be necessary.
Earl Clark has been one of the most efficient players on the Los Angeles Lakers' roster since joining the starting lineup. While he didn't stand out against Minnesota, he did the things that helped them come away with a victory.
To begin this game, Clark was taking smart shots. He still doesn't receive the defensive attention he probably deserves, and he knows how to take advantage of wide-open looks.
The thing that you like to see, though, is that he knows how to score in more than just a catch-and-shoot role. Friday night's game was another good example of how he can track down loose balls.
His percentage wasn't as high as we've seen, as he finished just 6-of-15 from the floor, but his 10 rebounds earn him credit, as he was a big reason the Lakers dominated the glass all the way through.
Pau Gasol found himself back in the starting lineup Friday night due to the shoulder injury to Dwight Howard.
Gasol has been known this season for inefficient play, but a 5-of-7 first quarter saw him take a team-high 13 points into the second period.
Defensively, Gasol struggled to keep Nikola Pekovic from gaining low-post position, but he did a solid job of using his length to pick up three blocks on the night.
The problem for Gasol is that he went completely quiet after the first quarter. There was a stretch where the big man was completely invisible, and that came when the Wolves made their massive comeback.
That being said, he showed up again late, which is when L.A. finally re-grabbed control. Gasol finished with a team-high 22 points and also managed to pull down 12 rebounds.
It took Antawn Jamison a while to get going against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he turned it on late and ended up having the best performance of any Los Angeles Laker off the bench.
With Pau Gasol starting in place of Dwight Howard, Jamison played an important role as a backup. He was extremely quiet early, but he showed great hustle toward the end when L.A. needed it.
The final period is when Jamison finally got involved on the glass. The team needed extra possessions as it weathered the Minnesota storm, and the forward gave them just that, with energy and effort at the rim.
Unfortunately for L.A., Jamison played an inefficient game when it came to shooting, despite finishing 7-of-15 from the floor. Again, he was both quiet and inaccurate when it came to his shot in the first three quarters.
In 28 minutes of play, Jamison had 18 points and seven assists.
The Los Angeles Lakers only had three reserves see the floor Friday.
Of those, Steve Blake had the best showing to begin the game. His shot was falling, and he finished with 10 points and three assists.
He didn't make a habit of turning the ball over, finishing the contest with just one giveaway.
Jamison, of course, played his role well enough to make a difference, especially late.
Jodie Meeks was the third player who received minutes. All seven of his shot attempts came from deep range, and while he only made two, he also knocked down two free throws to give himself eight points on the night.
This bench is much improved compared to early in the year. If this team can ever put together a stretch where everyone is healthy, the reserves could prove to be a huge factor in a potential push for the 2013 playoffs.