Kobe Bryant sits to see what young Lakers can do
Fans clamored for Kobe Bryant in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, chanting his name authoritatively at Target Center, but Coach Byron Scott did not put the ever-aging star back into the game.
In the latest twist to a season filled with them, Bryant supported letting the young players finish the game.
“He said, ‘Coach, let ‘em go. Let’s see what they do,’” Scott said.
They managed quite a bit, actually.
It was a loss, like everything else this season, 123-122 in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but D’Angelo Russell had 23 points and Julius Randle had 20 points and 12 rebounds two days after they lost their starting jobs.
Was that really entertainment creeping back into a Lakers game after so many duds on the court? Absolutely.
Russell looked confident and acrobatic Wednesday, making the biggest play of his young career — a double-clutch off-balance bank shot from seven feet with 2.2 seconds left in regulation. It tied the score at 114-114 and set up overtime.
It wasn’t so great from there for Russell, who missed the potential go-ahead shot on an 18-footer with 3.9 seconds left.
“I’ve made plenty of them, missed plenty of them too,” Bryant said he told Russell. “It’s your first [last-second] shot but it won’t be your last. On you go.”
Said Russell: “That’s an honor for him to say something like that, knowing that he could have easily told Coach he wanted that shot just to add to his collection.”
There might be more kids and less Kobe as the season lurches along for the Lakers, now 3-19 and getting lonely in the Western Conference basement.
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant defends Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during a game on Dec. 9.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) drives against Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr., right, during the first half.(Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) is trapped by Timberwolves defenders Nemanja Bjelica, rear, and Zach LaVine, left, during the first half.(Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)
Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) goes up for a shot against Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) during the first half.(Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant drives toward the basket against Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the first quarter of Wednesday’s game in Minneapolis.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell defends against Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin during the fourth quarter.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Lakers guard Lou Williams dribbles past Timberwolves guard Shabazz Muhammad during the second quarter.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is triple-teamed by, from left, Kobe Bryant, Roy Hibbert and Larry Nance Jr. during the second quarter.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. battle for a rebound during the first quarter.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Bryant did not play after the 3:56 mark of the third quarter. He had 11 points on typically inefficient five-for-13 shooting.
“It’s going to come to a point in time, probably the second half of the season, where Kobe doesn’t play a lot in that fourth quarter just so those guys can grow,” Scott said. “They’re probably going to fall on their face a bunch more times, but at the end of the day, they’ll at least be put in that position where they can grow.”
It’s way too early to declare a breakout game for Russell, a slow starter compared to other high draft picks from July.
In fact, top overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns was the best player on the court Wednesday, continuing his strong play with 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. He was drafted one spot ahead of Russell.
Randle and Russell showed some maturity before the game, talking to each other about blocking out bitterness from their demotion. They couldn’t control it anyway, they rationalized. So they played loose and free against Minnesota. It showed.
Randle was solid throughout and pulled down his 10th double-double, most among all players from the 2014 draft class.
Russell was quiet in the first half (two points) but turned it up from there. He had 13 points and three assists in the fourth quarter alone. His best play might have been an incompletion, a fearless drive in which he was fouled by Towns with 3:02 left in regulation. He made one of two free throws.
“I thought both of them came out with great energy and they were very good on making sure we kept our spacing offensively, didn’t try to do too much,” Scott said. “Defensively, they did some really good things as well. Still have to evolve on that end of the floor more.”
Not all was keen for the Lakers.
Jordan Clarkson left because of a sprained ankle after stepping on Andrew Wiggins’ foot. He was off to a great start, 14 points in 23 minutes, but limped through the locker room afterward to go see trainer Gary Vitti. It was unclear whether he would play Friday at San Antonio.
The Lakers are now 1-5 since leaving Los Angeles for their longest trip since 2008. At least there was an iota of wonderment regarding the young players, with an assist from Bryant.
“I know the fans wanted to see [Bryant] even more,” Scott said. “But it was great to have a guy like that say, ‘Hey coach, let them go.’”
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