The Lakers entered Tuesday's game against Minnesota undefeated, a perfect 7-0 on the young season. The Timberwolves came in one-defeated, sporting a 1-6 record along with both the league's worst offense and defense.
It was truly one of those classic games where absolutely nothing had to give. Technically, nothing did- the Lakers emerged victorious- but it was hardly the smackdown anticipated by, more or less, every basketball watching member of the free world.
Here's how it broke down...
1. Kobe Bryant (first half version, sort of)*- The Lakers were playing ugly around him, and for the first time this year Kobe was put in a position (or decided he was in one) to put the team on his back. He made nine of his 15 field goal attempts, most coming on an array of jumpers, some more open than others. He sensed weakness in his team and opponent, and aggressively tried to rectify the former and exploit the latter. But even Bryant's 23 point explosion wasn't all roses. A few of those jumpers came after his own blown assignments at the other end. Revenge shots aren't the ideal.
In the second half, Bryant cooled considerably, making only three of 13, dropping his final line to 12-for-28.
*Tonight wasn't one of those nights where it was enjoyable to watch Kobe go off. It was representative of a night where the Lakers weren't operating well as a group, and were, to be frank, mentally and physically lazy. This was the first time this season the Lakers went into "Kobe Takeover Mode," and against a team like Minnesota, it happened far too early, if it needed to happen at all. As a group, they need to have the discipline to push through poor play without turning to 24. Conversely, Bryant needs to measure those moments a little better. Neither happened.
"He forced things tonight," Phil Jackson said after the game.
See how I managed to make the first "Up" a sneaky "Down?" It was that kind of night.
2. Matt Barnes- Nine points, four points, three boards, two steals, plus some good D on Michael Beasley. Barnes was a major catalyst to the things the Lakers did well, getting up and down the floor to finish plays at the rim, forcing turnovers with his defense. "Our goal is to get better each and every night. We didn't really get better tonight," Barnes said after the game. "It was just an ugly game. Some games are going to be ugly." But they did win, thanks in large part to his work. Barnes was the only Laker I'd say played genuinely well. No asterisk required.
3. Oh... How about Pau Gasol? 18 points, 10 boards, three dimes, two blocks. Overall, he wasn't a dominant force, but still managed to finish with a pretty good stat line, and did more of his good work in the second half, ramping up his rebounds (seven) and scoring (10 points).
Three Down, with a few to grow on...
1. Lamar Odom- Generally speaking, I don't think it's fair to lay the result of every game on Odom's shoulders. He's going to have off nights, and the Lakers should still be able to pick him up, just as they should when Kobe or Pau aren't at their best. But Odom had his second bad game of the season, and the Lakers found themselves in another fairly unnecessary dogfight. L.O. got off to a bad start, missing five of his first seven shots, and picking up two early fouls. In the third quarter, he picked up a quick fourth foul, and in poor fashion at that, fouling Kevin Love at the three point line. He'd finish the quarter having played a grand total of 18 minutes, too few for a team thin up front without Andrew Bynum.
To his credit, Odom came alive late, driving the lane for a pair of layups (the second being an and-one) with a three-pointer sandwiched in between, plus some good work on the glass. Oddly, he seemed to do his best work after picking up his fifth foul, which was another rather senseless one against Love, this time in the open court. Odom's late resurgence only reinforces how important it is for him to stay on the floor. When he can't, not only does it hurt his game, but takes a big chunk out of L.A.'s.
2. Turnovers- The Lakers entered the game averaging the third fewest turnovers in the league (12.07), but nearly used up their nightly quota in the first half, when they gave the ball away nine times. During one particularly brutal stretch between the 8:30 and 6:17 marks of the second quarter the second quarter, the Lakers turned the ball over four times. Because the Wolves aren't very good, they only managed to turn L.A.'s largess into 11 points before the break, but another team would have done far more damage. They'd finish with 18, too many against a defensive team like Minnesota.
On the flip side, the Lakers also did a terrible job turning Minnesota's poor play into points. The Wolves had a whopping 25 trips end in a giveaway, and 27 team turnovers, but the home team only managed 20 points off them.
3. Defensive Rebounding- Stop me if you've heard this one before. Minnesota finished the night with 26 ORB's. Granted, they missed a healthy 57 shots, but that's still an unacceptably high 45.6 percent of available rebounds snagged on that end by the Wolves. Put another way, the Wolves had two fewer rebounds on the offensive end than the Lakers had defensive rebounds. Yeeps. A better team converts those second chances into more than 22 points. L.A. held Minnesota to 38 percent from the floor, and forced the aforementioned 23 turnovers. The Lakers' own miscues, combined with second chance opportunities, kept the Wolves in the game. Chalk the former up to an off night, but the latter, at this point, is a trend, one the Lakers need to end.
Love, who had 11 offensive rebounds on his own, shrugged when I asked him what the Lakers are (aren't) doing to allow so much space on the offensive glass. "It's just one of those things," he said. "If they can be so damn good at everything else, there are going to be one or two things that stick out that they don't do so well."
Phil Jackson was less charitable. "They out hustled us," he said. "They really had an intensity I thought should have woken us up in the first half with 15 offensive rebounds, but they came out and got nine in the third quarter on top of it."
More stuff that wasn't so great...
Steve Blake was a little loose with the ball, accounting for five TO's in only 14 minutes.
Composure- The Lakers didn't show much of it, particularly in the first half. They gave up on offensive sequences, took poor shots, and lacked discipline. "We made some passes that were astounding," Jackson said. That was not meant as a compliment.
Anyone want to put a body on Love? 23 points (on 7-17 shooting, it should be noted), 24 rebounds. Great for my fantasy team, not great for the Lakers.
Ron Artest finished with 13 points, but didn't shoot all that well (5-of-12), and made some awful choices with his shot and the ball. Plus, he struggled defensively early against Beasley, and found himself in foul trouble.
Overall, an ugly night, certainly one falling short of expectations. A big deal? Not really. In a month, people will forget the game even happened. By Thursday night, actually, if the Lakers play a good game in Denver. In the end, the Lakers move to 8-0, but as it was Friday against Toronto, fans won't hit the pillow with a sense of fulfillment.
"They played a bit harder than we did, I thought. And worked harder on the boards, for sure," Jackson said. "We didn't handle ourselves out there."
Derek Fisher was as critical of L.A.'s effort as I've ever heard him after a game. "The way we played tonight was irresponsible and it was reckless and it was disrespectful," he said. "I cant get any clearer than that. There was an air of complacency of arrogance of "we don't have to play as hard as the other team to win" that I didn't like tonight. That goes for all of us. That doesn't mean that we're going to play perfectly every night or that we're going to win all 82 games, I'm not that optimistic. But it didn't have to be that way."
Much more to come...