Lakers get eight the hard way
The Lakers had an easy time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, pushing aside one of the worst NBA teams and continuing on their destined path of dominance … wait, what?
The Lakers were anything but world-beaters against the Timberwolves, eventually turning a third-quarter deficit into a shaky 99-94 victory Tuesday at Staples Center.
If any coaching staff knows the Lakers, it’s Minnesota’s, with longtime Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis in his second season as the Timberwolves’ head coach, but this was more than just familiarity and strategy.
The Lakers were plain outhustled. They were outrebounded, 54-42, outscored in the paint, 44-40, and almost outdone, period.
Former UCLA player Kevin Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds, becoming the first player in almost two years to get a 20-20 against the Lakers.
If not for Kobe Bryant’s 33 points and a second-half push by Pau Gasol, the game would have been even tighter. A victory might have been a loss.
As it was, it was too close for the Lakers, who moved uneasily to 8-0.
“I think we were just ice skating tonight,” forward Ron Artest said. “It was Ice Capades. We forgot we had a basketball game. We were sleepwalking. We had a dream. Freddy Krueger came in our dreams, scared us and then we woke up and decided to play.”
Gasol had a mere eight points and three rebounds in the first half after an impressive triple-double against Portland two nights earlier. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, looking a little more alive after halftime.
Still, the Timberwolves wouldn’t go away, moving within 98-94 on a three-point play by Michael Beasley with 36.4 seconds left.
Minnesota didn’t score again. The Lakers’ postgame quotes could be summarized with one word: “Phew.”
The Timberwolves (1-7) already earned a minor piece of history by losing three of their first seven games by at least 25 points, the third team in 20 years to do such a thing.
So at Rambis’ request, former Showtime teammate Magic Johnson spoke to the Timberwolves before the game.
They looked fine while taking a 28-26 lead after making all five of their three-point attempts in the first quarter. The Lakers had a slim halftime edge, 58-52, and trailed by two early in the third quarter.
It was the Lakers who looked fragmented, or confused, or something, kind of like they were Friday in a close victory over Toronto.
Steve Blake had a rare five turnovers, while Lamar Odom and Bryant each had four.
“We made some passes that were astounding,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “That’s problematic for us.”
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was the last player to get 20 points and 20 rebounds against the Lakers in January 2009.
“That wasn’t very pretty,” Jackson said. “They outhustled us. They really had an intensity I thought should have woken us up in the first half.”
The Timberwolves, and Love, almost succeeded in dropping the Lakers from the unbeaten.
It will be the Nuggets’ turn to try Thursday in Denver.