L.A. Lakers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Postgame Grades and Analysis for L.A.
They also almost collapsed in a big way, too.
Merely hours after finding out they had lost Metta World Peace for six weeks, the Lakers appeared on the verge of sticking it to the Timberwolves. Hopes of a blowout victory were dashed in the fourth quarter by a healthy dose of Hack-a-Howard and poor defense, but they still managed to emerge from Minnesota with a much-needed 120-117 victory Wednesday night.
Defensively, the Lakers were terrible. The Timberwolves aren't known for their offense, but managed to post 117 points. Los Angeles' rotations were horrible and their fourth-quarter rebounding was nonexistent.
Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash all showed up on offense, though, and the quartet carried the Lakers to a victory that nearly slipped away.
This win ensures that the Lakers won't drop out of eighth place in the Western Conference—which is huge. Just like the Lakers offense was in this one.
Point Guard: Steve Nash
Steve Nash was good, but he could have been better.
The veteran point guard connected on four of his seven shots, en route to dropping 16 points. He also did a nice job facilitating—drive-and-kicks especially—finishing with eight assists.
Not that this is a surprise, but I was not impressed with his defense, however. He was beat off the dribble far too much, and he got a bit handsy when he couldn't keep up. Those five fouls of his say it all.
His decision-making was questionable at points as well.
One of my biggest qualms about Nash is his penchant for over-passing. Far too often he can be found looking to create for others when he has an open look or clear path to the basket. Admirable as such selflessness seems, said mindset fueled the six turnovers Nash committed.
And what's up with this missing-big-free-throws-down-the-stretch thing he's got going on? It was just one, and the Lakers won anyway. But still...
Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks
Jodie Meeks didn't do much, but he did enough.
After getting the nod to start following the grim Metta World Peace news, Meeks tallied just five points on 2-of-7 of shooting. That said, he wasn't forcing the action and kept the ball moving when it hit him. He finished with three assists to show for his efforts.
Credit Meeks with some nice defensive sets, too. He and Dwight Howard were about the only ones consistently involved.
He forced a steal, but the real story is how he crowded the passing lanes, making it difficult for both Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour to see the floor.
Some of Meeks' rotations left much to be desired, but you could say that about the entire squad in general.
Los Angeles will need him to yield more results on the offensive end, but with World Peace sidelined for the next month-and-a-half, the team will take any defense it can get.
Think of Meeks like a miniature World Peace at this point. Creepy, I know, but true all the same.
Small Forward: Kobe Bryant
Yeah, that Kobe Bryant showed up.
After shooting 11-of-27 against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe followed up with a 12-of-21 showing in Minny, torching the Timberwolves for 31 points.
But this isn't about his scoring; he once again played the part of a facilitator, dropping seven dimes.
Once you overlook some of his poor rotations (sick of hearing that yet?), Bryant had some outstanding defensive sets as well. He had a steal and block apiece, and did a fairly good job of keeping the Timberwolves ball-handlers outside of the paint.
Why didn't he get a perfect grade? His six turnovers. He was far too reckless on some of his drives and made some late passes that should have never left his hand.
I'm not about to criticize the Black Mamba for trying to have too complete a game—the Lakers are now 29-16 when he dishes out at least five assists.
Bryant did miss a game-icing free throw that would have rendered the Rubio controversy irrelevant, but again, the overall energy and resolve was tremendous.
Almost like he knew what was at stake.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Everybody do the Pau Gasol.
What, that's not a dance? Well, then someone invent it, because he deserves it after his efforts here.
Watching him navigate the floor wasn't painful like it was against the Warriors and Washington Wizards. He was taking longer strides and putting more weight on his feet.
Pau: 1, Plantar Fasciitis: 0.
Gasol finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds, forced two steals and came up with two blocks.
Perhaps Gasol was riding a high from playing against compatriot Ricky Rubio, but he looked more like the Pau of two years ago. He still has a long way to go on defense, specifically with defending on the ball, but I'd hazard this was his most complete effort of the season.
Instinctive offense, well-placed passes (three assists) and crisp movements that probably made Rubio proud...he had it all.
Here's to hoping this is the first of many stops on Gasol's quest for redemption.
Center: Dwight Howard
So much for getting Dwight Howard more involved.
I'm kidding. If Hack-a-Howard were illegal, Howard would have achieved the satisfaction of the ever-elusive A+.
Unfortunately, he shot 7-of-17 from the foul line. He finished with four turnovers as well. Believe me when I say they weren't pretty either.
Even so, Howard was phenomenal in this one. Los Angeles made a concerted effort to run the ball through the post more and capitalize on some timely pick-and-roll situations.
Howard himself did a lot to make it happen. He was aggressive when rolling off screens, and when he received the ball in the post, he was dribbling less and pump-faking more. That's what you want to see (sans the excessively buttered fingers).
The big man finished with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor, grabbed 16 rebounds, forced five steals and blocked five shots.
Like I said, he was spectacular. Sorry, phenomenal.
Call this display whatever you like, it was further evidence that Howard has reached or is nearing Superman status yet again.
Sixth Man: Antawn Jamison
Antawn Jamison, bad wrist and all, was sensational.
He dropped 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, came up big from deep (2-of-2), and the rotations on his shots were so much better than they were in the loss to Golden State.
Let's not underestimate the job he did on the glass, either. He came up with five rebounds and did a great job battling for position on the defensive end of the floor.
That defense of his overall, though? Yuck. He's another one who would have received a perfect grade had he rotated and perhaps defended against the east-and-west attack a bit better.
At a time when the Lakers were without Metta World Peace, however, it was refreshing to see Jamison successfully battle through pain. This wasn't a limited version of the forward some were expecting—he didn't seem to be favoring his wrist at all.
As I find myself saying after almost every good game, if he can keep this up, the Lakers will be in much better shape come playoff time.
Rest of Bench
There are just some games where the Lakers seem comfortably deep. This was not one of those games.
Earl Clark was irrelevant (bordering on hurtful) and was held scoreless in his 13 minutes of play.
How about the revamped version of Steve Blake we've been bearing witness to lately, though?
Blake finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field. He's also turned into a viable three-point threat (2-of-5) off drive-and-kicks.
His defense was regrettable, however. He has a tendency to either crowd the ball or play too far off it. He needs to find that middle ground.
There's no doubt there wasn't much of a bench to work with here, and Earl Clark didn't do Mike D'Antoni any favors.
Luckily, the Lakers didn't need any more.