Kurt Rambis sees the other side
Kobe Bryant wasn’t the only game-day arrival captured by TV cameras near the Staples Center loading dock.
Friday night was also Kurt Rambis’ turn to stare past the glare, his every step followed from the moment he set foot in the arena to the moment he arrived at the visitors’ locker room.
“They thought I was Nick Nolte,” said the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rambis was back to take on the franchise for which he was part of four championships as a player and three as an assistant coach.
He was hopeful ahead of time, the possibilities endless before tipoff between the Lakers, who had the NBA’s best record at 17-3, and the Timberwolves, who came into the game at 3-19.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how my team responds to playing on center stage against the best team in the world,” Rambis said.
The Timberwolves hung around for a surprisingly long time, trailing at halftime, 56-54. The Lakers, however, pulled away and won, 104-92.
Despite the Timberwolves’ woeful record, the Lakers were cautious, knowing Rambis had spent the previous four seasons as an assistant under Coach Phil Jackson.
“Their coach knows our weaknesses and our shortcomings,” said Lakers’ assistant coach Brian Shaw, who was in charge of preparing a game plan against Minnesota. “They’re going to know our stuff and they’re going to be prepared because that’s what kind of guy Kurt is. They know exactly what we run.”
Rambis took the triangle offense with him to Minnesota, though he has one guard bringing the ball up court -- rookie Johnny Flynn -- while the Lakers typically use a two-guard front.
“They flow into it probably better than we do,” Shaw said. “The ball hits Kobe [Bryant]'s hands, a lot of times, it stops. It hits Andrew [Bynum]'s hands, it stops. They don’t have a go-to guy, so they rely more on the ball movement and all that, as opposed to we have individuals that can actually force action.”
Win or lose, Timberwolves players knew they were going to get an education by playing the Lakers.
“There’s a lot you can learn from this team,” said power forward Kevin Love, in his second season out of UCLA. “They’re very long, very big, they execute their offense, they pound the ball inside.
“They’re so tough because Kobe will get the ball in the post, and Bynum and [Pau] Gasol will be on that weak side, and basically, Kobe will just look at the ball and say, ‘Those guys are 7-foot-1,’ and just throw the ball up. They’ll catch it and lay it up.”
When he was still a Lakers assistant, Rambis spent countless hours before games bodying up to Bynum to help the young center develop his post moves.
It’s safe to say it has paid off, with Bynum, 22, looking at a possible All-Star appearance in two months.
“He’s developing all the skills and the vision that I had for him -- the way that he shoots the basketball, his post moves, and the way he can play with his back to the basket or facing it,” Rambis said. “As a teacher, you’re very proud of that sort of thing.”