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Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Defense and rebounding wins championships and/or beats the Wolves

By Andy Kamenetzky

It took nearly three quarters before the Lakers finally looked like the Lakers at the Target Center. After tying the game at 58 with a 15 footer, Kobe Bryant drilled a three pointer and set up Lamar Odom at the rim with a slick fake shot-pass. The flood gates proceeded to open as expected when the two-time defending champions face a team waiting for Ricky Rubio to save them. Between the 4:38 mark of the third quarter and the 6:26 mark of the fourth, the Lakers enjoyed a 22-5 run. Order was restored and the inevitable conclusion was met.


AP Photo/Jim Mone
Pau Gasol's rebounding helped offset early problems scoring.


Before that, however, the Lakers were colder than any of the "Minnesota weather" jokes inevitably tossed around as shots refused to fall.

The Lakers were 22.7 percent from the field to cap the first quarter. A half closed at a robust 30.4 clip (14-46), with Andrew Bynum's four-for-eight showing the primary reason numbers were even that high. Several of our Twitter followers bemoaned the long jumpers clanged, but there were a fair amount of misses from point blank as well. Beyond attempts at the charity stripe (nine-for-10), no distance or spot on the floor failed to frustrate the Lakers. Of the 40 points accumulated, 26 required a second chance.

Which gets into the reason the Lakers eventually came out ahead despite the offense taking so long to click.

Rebounding and defense.

After a first quarter where each side grabbed 15 rebounds, the Lakers whupped up in the battle of the boards. 53-39 overall. League-leader Kevin Love was limited to just 11 boards, 4.5 below his average. And most noteworthy, they crushed on the offensive glass. Pau Gasol, who led all glass-eaters with 17 rebounds, grabbed five on the offensive glass. Andrew Bynum matched that mark, and Odom was just one behind. There was a terrific sequence where Shannon Brown hustled to save a miss from Bynum, then knocked it off a Wolf to retain possession. The new opportunity was eventually converted into an Odom bucket. Manufactured, naturally, by an offensive rebound putback.

The critical nature of this particular stat can't be overestimated on an evening where the rims simply refuse to cooperate.

From there, defense did the rest.

Minnesota shot just 40 percent (rounding up), and beyond Wesley Johnson, it was tough sledding for any Wolf of import. Just one three-pointer dropped for the hosts in nine tries during the second half. A scant two points were notched in the first 3:16 following intermission. 24 second violations were forced, one of which didn't feature a referee whistle after Beasley missed a jumper. Recognizing only a horn officially stops the action, Kobe wisely seized the situation -- along with the live ball -- and made his way to the rim for an easy deuce.


AP Photo/Jim Mone
Andrew Bynum's defense made life tough for Kevin Love and the gang.


Bynum was a terror all evening, between two first half blocks (one in space against Luke Ridnour near the baseline) and countless other shots altered. After Michael Beasley collected a missed layup from Ron Artest, America's favorite source for mixed tapes stole the ball from southpaw, then made good on a second layup attempt.

If this "defense and rebounding" formula looked familiar, that's because it was famously put to good use against the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Finals. Does one expect a blood, sweat and tears approach to be necessary against the T-Wolves? Nope. But even the two-time defending champs don't get to make the rules. Sometimes, you gotta work hard against inferior competition. This has been a stubborn reality for a team with intermittent focus, making this an important win in its own right.

Against Cleveland, the Lakers mistakenly assumed the Cavs would eventually roll over and give up. Or that elite talent would prevail over scrubs via osmosis. These mistakes weren't repeated against Minny.

Maybe they really are "back."