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Lakers 112, Timberwolves 95: Mr. Barnes Was Ehhhxcellent

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Now that's more like it. When the Lakers hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center a week-and-a-half ago, they played with all the joy and enthusiasm of a DMV worker reviewing your application for a moped license. The outcome was a desultory, five-point victory. Tonight, in the not-very-long-awaited rematch at Target Center, the champs were much more on-task. They used a 22-4 second quarter run to build a double-digit margin that the Wolves never really bit into. Early in the second half the lead reached 16, and from there the Lakers strolled to their third straight win. The final score was 112 to 95.

This was the supporting cast's time to shine. Both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had off shooting nights, but their teammates were hot as blazes and powered the Laker offense to another strong effort. Matt Barnes played the game of his life. In 24 minutes off the bench, he gutted the Timberwolves with 24 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field (including 5-for-5 on three-pointers) and 5-for-5 shooting from the line, all the while committing precisely zero turnovers. Just for giggles, he also pulled down seven rebounds, handed out six assists and picked up a couple steals. It was a masterpiece of a performance from a guy who's looking like one of the great signings of the 2010 offseason. Thanks again, Raja Bell!

Barnes's epic night allowed the Lakers to overcome an equally startling outburst by universal punchline Darko Milicic. Darko was fantastic. He was pugnacious and aggressive on both ends of the floor and rung up a stat line that looks like a misprint: 26 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and two steals. It looked for a time like he would go for triple-double, which obviously would've required David Stern to contract the Lakers out of the league. Darko's production slowed down in the second half, but he nonetheless outplayed Eurorival Pau Gasol for much of the game.

Pau looked out of sorts early on. In the first half he scored only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Three of those attempts were swatted by Darko. Post-halftime, Pau adjusted by taking Darko away from the hoop and hitting that elbow set-shot of his. He shot 5-for-6 in the second half and finished with respectable totals of 16 points on 15 shots (including free-throw possessions), 14 rebounds and six assists. There was a disconcerting moment in the third when he fell and rolled his ankle, necessitating a trip to the locker room. He did, however, return to the game, and afterward Phil Jackson said that he's fine.

The cold of Minnesota appeared to cast a chill on Kobe's shooting stroke. He had difficulty finding the hoop, scoring 23 points on 30 shots. I thought his shot selection was basically fine. There wasn't anything reckless or out of the ordinary about his approach. It was just one of those nights when the rock didn't go down for him. It happens, and you'd generally prefer that it happen against teams of Minnesota's ilk. Kobe did get whacked a couple times on the finger that he broke last season, and he seemed to be holding it gingerly at times. Let's hope it's nothing.

It's pretty awesome that with their two megastars suffering poor shooting nights, the Lakers still scored 1.14 points per possession, a mark that ensures they'll stay way ahead of the field in the league scoring tables. The ball movement was very crisp. Guys made the second and third pass to find open looks, whether it was Barnes outside the arc or Lamar Odom lurking on the baseline behind the Minnesota bigs. Derek Fisher played really well. He scored 14 and was perfect on his five field-goal attempts. Shannon Brown chipped in 11 off the bench, playing through a scratch across his eye compliments of Luke Ridnour. He, too, was in good shape after the game, per Phil's comments.

Like the Pistons team the Lakers ran away from on Wednesday, the Wolves don't have the firepower to keep up when the champs are playing like this. Ron Artest did a nice job forcing Michael Beasley into some bad shooting. The Beez kept his streak of 25-point games alive but chewed through over 30 possessions in the process. Minny's other cornerstone, Kevin Love, was completely neutralized by Lamar Odom. He scored zero points and collected only seven boards, less than half his season average. The Wolves as a team did well on the offensive glass, exploiting the Lakers' chronic weakness with 17 second-chance points, but there was no perimeter threat to supplement the attack. They converted only six of their 26 three-point attempts. Obviously this is a roster that needs several more dynamic shotmakers.

N e ways, here are some highlights. Matt Barnes broke out like chickenpox! 

So that's that for the Lakers' Midwest road trip. They went a perfect 3-0 with none of the games especially close. Back to L.A. they now head to host the Warriors on Sunday night.











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