Tyson Chandler went to Compton Dominguez High and sometimes let his mind wander to what it would be like to play for the Lakers.
Not until his 18th NBA season did he finally do it — and as it turned out, the Lakers needed him more than even he needed them.
The Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-110 on Wednesday night and they could not have done it without Chandler.
“It’s been a crazy 48 hours,” Chandler said, “but it was great to be out there, and play a part on the team I’ve watched my entire life.”
Chandler played 23 minutes in his debut, a day after the Lakers signed him. And while he scored only two points, he had nine rebounds, including two critical offensive rebounds on taps in the game’s final 42 seconds. Crushed on the boards the last time they met, this time the Lakers outrebounded the Timberwolves 47-40.
“He gave us great minutes,” LeBron James said. “Every last one of his minutes was impactful.”
With the win, the Lakers improved to 5-6 while the Timberwolves fell to 4-8. James led the Lakers with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma added 21 points and Brandon Ingram scored 20.
Minnesota’s Derrick Rose led all scorers with 31 points, making seven of nine three-pointers. Jimmy Butler scored 24 points after scoring 32 against the Lakers on Oct. 29. Since then he has skipped two games as he tries to force a trade out of Minnesota. Butler played against the Clippers on Monday and scored 20 points.
Prone to slow starts that can quickly turn disastrous, the Lakers remained within two points of the Timberwolves for the game’s first six minutes. Minnesota went on a 12-4 run to open up a nine-point lead.
Still, just as they did in the teams’ first meeting, the Lakers kept the game close at each break.
When Chandler checked in with 3:08 left in the first, spelling JaVale McGee, some fans stood up to cheer for him.
“I love this city the way they love me,” Chandler said. “When you homegrown from here, go to high school and all of that, and you have these same fans that have been watching, and now you represent the jersey that everyone has been cheering for their entire lives, you kinda become one. I’ve been on the other side and played the villain. Now it’s great to be on this side and actually rep ‘em.”
After one quarter, Minnesota led 32-30. At halftime, the Timberwolves were still up 67-65, the Lakers having cut their deficit when Kuzma hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. Forward Andrew Wiggins scored 17 points in the half, with Rose adding 15 points and five assists. Minnesota also made 11 of its 17 three-pointers ( 64.7%) in the first half.
The Lakers, meanwhile, made eight of 14 three-pointers in the half.
The Lakers pulled ahead by seven with 1:51 left on a three-pointer by Kuzma, but the Timberwolves still had some fight in them. Rose, the former MVP with Chicago, knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to cut the Lakers’ lead to one.
With 46.2 seconds left, James missed a three-pointer. But Chandler was there to help. He tapped the ball out to a teammate.
With 15.2 seconds left, James missed another three-pointer. And Chandler was there again, tapping the ball back out. Eventually Kuzma got a pair of free throws out of it, making one.
Rose missed a three-pointer that could have put Minnesota ahead. A Hart rebound and two free throws with 1.2 seconds left put the game out of reach.
“The way D-Rose was shooting the ball toward the end we needed every last one of those offensive rebounds,” James said. “It allowed us to win the game.”
Chandler was glad to help out.
“Whatever Coach asks of me is what I want to provide,” Chandler said. “It was awesome down the stretch. I clearly didn’t have my legs, but I know I can anchor defensively. … I’ll make you comfortable on defense, you guys take care of the other end.”
Last week Chandler was a member of the Phoenix Suns. In the final year of a four-year contract, Chandler knew that he, like many veterans in his situation, might have the opportunity at some point in the season to have his contract bought out by the Suns, get waived and find another home. Teams that carry an empty roster spot, as the Lakers have, are able to sign players who have been bought out.
The buyout market, though, typically comes later in the NBA season.
“We needed the help now,” Walton said. “And I don’t know how that all works but give Rob and Magic credit for recognizing that and going out and getting that job done for our squad. I think it helps stabilize us.”
Before signing Chandler, McGee was their only trusted center option. McGee had been playing well in the early part of the season and leads the league with 34 blocks. But the Lakers were often forced to go small more quickly than they wanted to when McGee needed rest.
On Wednesday, they chose to close with Chandler and he repaid them.
After he spoke to reporters, Chandler walked away gingerly. His legs were cramping and his back was hurting. That’s the life of a 36-year-old in the NBA.
But there wasn’t any part of him that minded too much.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli