Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Timberwolves at Lakers: Wolves in Hollywood

The post-All Star Game schedule did not seem kind to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were slated to start the second half of the season with a back-to-back-to-back, all three games being on the road, with the first two against the teams from Los Angeles. So much for the upstart team from up north.

However, Minnesota came out looking resilient against the Clippers on Tuesday night. After winning their first game against the Clippers in dramatic fashion earlier this season, the Timberwolves scored a more decisive victory with the help of great bench production. Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley both scored 27 points as reserves on a combined 20-25 shooting, including hitting all 7 three pointers. The Wolves' not-oft used lineup of Barea-Webster-Beasley-Williams-Milicic thoroughly outplayed the Clips' starters, scoring 48 points on just 28 possessions.

Act 2 of this Pacific division road trip (Minnesota's in Phoenix tomorrow) brought the Wolves back to Staples Center for a matchup against the Lakers. Los Angeles was playing its first game since All Star weekend, but Kobe Bryant's status was at least somewhat in question due to a concussion. He would play, albeit with a mask protecting his recently broken nose. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they would be missing All Star Kevin Love due to illness. This did not bode well against a team with a big front line that is 2nd in the league in total rebound rate.

The Lakers were indeed able to control the game with their size throughout. The first quarter saw Luke Ridnour having to guard Metta World Peace due to the necessity of putting the more athletic Wes Johnson on Kobe Bryant. World Peace got 2 easy buckets inside early, one of which became an and-1. Bynum would also get it going in the second quarter with a spin around Darko Milicic for a dunk and then an alley-oop finish in the lane from Steve Blake. Bynum finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Pau was quiet in the first half, but scored 11 of his 15 in the second to keep the Lakers out ahead. While the rebounding disparity was not as severe as one might have predicted (48-44 in favor of Los Angeles), the Lakers had 8 blocks to Minnesota's 1, showing an obstructive defensive presence in the lane.

While the lane was occupied in the half court set, much of Minnesota's offense came on transition buckets. Rubio played traffic director, tallying 9 assists, including one that went between Derek Fisher's legs to a streaking Pekovic. Ricky's shooting woes continued, however, as he finished 1 for 8 with just 3 points.

And the man in the mask? He poured in a game-high 31 points on 11-23 shooting, going 9-10 from the line with 7 rebounds and 8 assists.

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