Maybe it was embarrassment following Saturday night's loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee. Maybe it was a sense of desperation for a team 1-7 on the road and badly needing a win. Maybe it was Mike Brown deciding to wear a tie, something he eschewed Saturday night.
Whatever the cause, Lakers fans will take the results, despite how tight things got down the stretch. Given the current state of affairs, any win is a good win, and that's what the Lakers got Sunday in Minneapolis over a dangerous Wolves team.
Here are six takeaways ...
1. Pau Gasol bounced back offensively from a tough game Saturday night.
He left Milwaukee with five dimes and 15 rebounds, but made only six of his 18 shots, periodically falling victim to some of the indecision plaguing him throughout the season. Sunday night, Gasol started hot and stayed that way, whether hitting jumpers on the pick-and-pop or facing up against Kevin Love or other Minnesota defenders. He put the ball on the floor from time to time, as well. Most importantly, from the get-go every time the ball ended up in his hands, Pau knew what he wanted to do with it. There was purpose in every action, helping explain 14 points on 6-for-8 from the floor by the end of the first quarter.
In the fourth, Gasol was instrumental in L.A.'s push to put the game away, scoring eight points and assisting two more buckets. Again, Pau knew what he wanted to do with the rock when it came to him. On a night where a strong Kobe Bryant put up 35 points and 29 shots (14-for-29 overall), the Lakers needed a similarly efficient performance from Gasol. They couldn't afford a repeat of the Milwaukee game. Not a problem. 28 points on 11-of-15 from the floor.
Like most of his teammates, Gasol fell well short on the glass (see below), but in this regard, at least, he was fantastic.
2. The Lakers struggled (again) against the zone.
Rick Adelman peppered it in early, but in the third quarter Minnesota's zone D effectively shut down L.A.'s offense, and in turn helped fuel the Timberwolves on the other end as an 18-point lead evaporated. The Lakers scored only six points in the final five minutes of the quarter, generally doing exactly what the Wolves wanted them to do -- shoot jump shots.
The floor balance got out of kilter, and Minnesota was off and running.
None of this should surprise. Over the past few seasons, the Lakers have been lousy when teams left the man-to-man in favor of zones. That was when they understood their offensive system. These days, the Lakers struggle in their most basic sets, stopping to think whenever teams apply pressure or shut off a primary option. It took a long time for them to figure out how to get the ball into the soft spots of the zone near the high post -- it didn't come until very late in the fourth -- and force the Wolves to move. When they did, whether by utilizing Andrew Bynum and Gasol in the high/low game around or finding a little room for Kobe, there were good looks available.
Generally, though, they were content to repeatedly launch from the perimeter, refusing to view the rapidly evaporating lead as evidence maybe a different plan of attack might be warranted. As a result, Adelman was able to stay with the zone far longer than any NBA team rightly should be able.
Add in some critical fourth-quarter turnovers, one coming on an entry pass from Derek Fisher in the corner to Bynum in the post, then from Kobe on the dribble, and it's no surprise the Lakers spent most of the final 18 minutes on their heels.
A suspect transition defense asked to play nothing but? That's a bad recipe. Contained in the structure of a half-court offense, the Lakers were able to keep a lid on Ricky Rubio and the Wolves. On the move? Fuhgettaboutit. He finished with five assists in the second half, and it would have been more had Minny converted on some of its chances (at least on the first try ... see below).
3. A rebound! A rebound! My kingdom for a defensive rebound!
If Minnesota's zone explains one half of L.A.'s struggles, the near total inability to secure the defensive glass was the other.
Minnesota shot 38.5 percent from the floor. The Lakers, meanwhile, finished at 50.6 despite the dry third-quarter stretch and canning 3-pointers at a rate nearly unprecedented over the course of the season. (Seriously, with eight on the night, the Lakers may have dipped into their February allotment.) So why was Minnesota able to post enough points to stay in it, and even briefly take the lead? The Wolves finished with 25 more field goal attempts thanks to 24 offensive rebounds and 32 second-chance points.
I'll type that again: 24 offensive rebounds, and 32 second-chance points.
To put that in perspective, take away Kobe's 14 boards, and the Wolves nearly had more offensive rebounds than the Lakers had TOTAL rebounds (24 versus 27).
As Mike Brown likes to say, the Lakers simply failed to put bodies on bodies consistently, something that has to be done on a team with Love. Bynum and Gasol both failed, and as a team they lost track of nearly everyone in a home uniform at one point or another. Perhaps the embodiment of the problem came late in the fourth, when Anthony Randolph sailed through the lane totally unopposed and slammed back a missed jumper like something out of the All-Star dunk contest.
The Lakers almost gave it away, and had they, this would have been a huge reason.
4. A few jumpers make a huge difference.
While they certainly made it easy on Minnesota in the third, the Lakers showed how much a few perimeter buckets matter. The 3-ball helped pump their offensive output. It's a lot easier to look decent on that side of the ball when outside shots fall.
5. Did I mention 14 rebounds for Kobe?
He had the jumper working, hitting five of his nine 3s, but while the 35 points were impressive and needed, the aggressive play on the glass was even more so. He is, after all, a 2 guard, and the Lakers, after all, were otherwise totally obliterated on the boards.
Congratulations to Bryant as well for becoming the all-time franchise leader in field goals, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
6. Minutes are still an issue.
Brown keeps talking about finding more rest for Kobe, but it hasn't happened overall and didn't Sunday night. 42 minutes. Gasol played 42 as well, and Bynum finished with 36. These numbers need to come down.