Call it Survival Of the Grittiest.
The Los Angeles Lakers picked up a much needed win in Minnesota, defeating the Timberwolves by a final score of 105-102. Having lost two straight to two terrible teams, you might think the Lakers would come into the game focused and ready for the task at hand, but instead the first quarter was a laughable display of poor defense (the Lakers gave up 7 layups or tipins in the quarter), poorer rebounding (8 offensive rebounds for Minny) and poorest ball handling (7 turnovers) from which the Lakers were lucky to escape with only a 12 point deficit. L.A. then spent the remainder of the night chipping away at the lead, regaining the lead early in the 4th quarter and then holding off the Wolves down the stretch with just enough offensive execution and superstar who was probably happy to do his damage from the free throw line in the final minute.
Speaking of that superstar, Kobe Bryant had the kind of game that only Kobe Bryant can have. Fresh off a contest in which he tied the league record (his own) for missed shots on the season, in going 9-31, Kobe seemed ready to double down in gunning turpitude, going 4-15 in the first half. But the Masked Mamba has nicknames for a reason, and he rebounded to shoot a healthy 7-11 from the field in the 2nd half while clawing his way to 10 free throws, and ended up with 34 vital points on a respectable 26 shots.
In the preview, I mentioned that if Kobe came correct and got one great game from one of his bigs, the Lakers were likely to win. Well, he got one hell of a great game out of Andrew Bynum. The big man was aggressive and dominant, scoring 26 points on just 15 shots, a number that might have improved slightly if he'd made more than four out of his eight free throws, but that's picking nits for the player of the game. 10 boards for Drew, and Pau Gasol joined him at In-N-Out with a much quieter version (12 and 11) of the double-double. Though Pau was the guy seemingly most at fault for the Lakers early rebounding woes, credit him and the team for cleaning up the glass in a major way after the 1st quarter. You can be sure that if the Wolves had picked up more than just the two offensive rebounds in the final 36 minutes, the chances of Laker victory would have decreased significantly.
So, a much needed victory, but hardly one that will quell the nervous and negative energy surrounding the team after a pretty terrible three game road trip. The win certainly goes down smoother than a loss would have, but the Wolves were once again without star Kevin Love, and the Lakers so over-matched the Wolves in this same Love-less state a week ago that they were able to skip the 2nd quarter (much like they did the 3rd against Detroit and Washington) and still win by 20 points. Barely eeking out a victory tonight by having to claw back from the brink, despite being on the road, hardly inspires confidence. Such is the ebb and flow of this tumultuous Lakers season