Odom shows Lakers what they missed
The game was a concern for the Lakers before it ever took place, a formula for numerous losses last season.
The opponent was the injured, underwhelming Minnesota Timberwolves, an appropriate time for Coach Phil Jackson to dredge up the past, reminding players earlier in the day of their struggles against lesser teams in recent history.
It apparently took a half to sink in, but the Lakers eventually defeated the Timberwolves, 107-93, on Friday at Staples Center.
Lamar Odom was back in the lineup and Kobe Bryant made sure the Timberwolves remained winless, scoring 30 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers also got ahead of the curve compared with last season, when they went a combined 1-8 against Milwaukee, Charlotte, Portland and New York -- all non-playoff teams.
“Our situation is that we have to play well enough against these type of teams to not be surprised,” Jackson said of his pre-game admonition. “I don’t think these players will overlook anybody right now.”
The Lakers beat the Timberwolves on the boards, 51-44, and had three players with 10 or more rebounds for the first time since a January 2006 game against the Clippers. Odom, Chris Mihm and Andrew Bynum each had 10 rebounds.
Odom started at small forward and had 18 points in 37 minutes after missing the first four games while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
For a change, he didn’t have to bang against the opposing team’s power forward. Instead of guarding Al Jefferson (6 feet 10, 265 pounds), he was matched up against Ryan Gomes (6 feet 7, 250).
Considering he hadn’t played a minute in exhibition play and the regular season, Odom looked to be in fairly good shape, slipping past Corey Brewer for a running dunk and taking a bounce pass from Bryant for a two-handed fastbreak dunk. He made seven of 10 shots.
“It feels good,” Odom said, repeating it two more times for emphasis. “Hopefully it’ll get better. There was a couple of times they had chances for offensive rebounds and I was thinking about going up and trying to snag it with one hand, and I kind of pulled back, so I guess I’ve got to get over that. But other than that, I feel good.”
Odom at small forward gives the Lakers a taller front line and creates more post-up situations for him. Not to mention his ever-present playmaking ability.
“I think it speeds up our game probably in the open court,” Jackson said of Odom’s return. “This is a great game for him to come back in and get his feet wet and start playing.”
The Timberwolves didn’t seem overly impressed by Odom’s return in the first quarter, taking a 20-12 lead until the Lakers began pounding away, ultimately turning a 56-50 halftime edge into an 83-69 lead after three quarters.
There was a tense moment or two for the Lakers in the fourth quarter after their 16-point lead was reduced to seven, but Bryant made four free throws and a three-pointer in the final 1:15 to help the Lakers win without too much stress.
For the Lakers, it was their first win against a lesser team.
“Most of us were aware we lost a lot of games that we felt we should have won,” forward Luke Walton said. “Just him mentioning it gets everyone a little more sharp, a little more on edge as opposed to feeling relaxed.”
That the Timberwolves lack a presence without Kevin Garnett has been obvious to just about any observer over the first two weeks of the season.
They are young, inexperienced and injured -- their second-leading scorer, Rashad McCants, sat out Friday because of a sprained ankle, and Randy Foye, penciled in as the team’s starting point guard, has not played this season because of a knee injury.
Either way, the Lakers will take the victory. Their next few games won’t be easy.
They hit the road next week for an early-season back-to-back test -- Tuesday in San Antonio and Wednesday in Houston. Then they return home to play Detroit next Friday.
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Up to the task
Through five games Kobe Bryant has improved his field goal percentage and rebound average. Comparing his start with his season averages since Shaquille O’Neal was traded:
POINTS PG: 27.6
ASSISTS PG: 6.0
REBOUNDS PG: 5.9
FG PCT.: 43.3
POINTS PG: 35.4
ASSISTS PG: 4.5
REBOUNDS PG: 5.3
FG PCT.: 45.0
POINTS PG: 31.6
ASSISTS PG: 5.4
REBOUNDS PG: 5.7
FG PCT.: 46.3
KOBE THIS SEASON
POINTS PG: 30.3
ASSISTS PG: 5.8
REBOUNDS PG: 7.4
FG PCT.: 49.5