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Friday, March 18, 2011
Lakers 106, Wolves 98: At the buzzer

By Andy Kamenetzky

The Lakers won the game, which is the most important thing (especially since Boston, Chicago, and Dallas all lost today). The second most important thing would be that we never speak of said game again. It's similar to the rules regarding Fight Club.

Highlights

Steve Blake
His numbers aren't gaudy, but quietly, the backup point guard provided solid support. Nine points (3-for-4 shooting), including a big triple that bailed out an over-dribbled possession by Kobe Bryant. There was also a long two drilled near the top of the arc, which was especially pleasing because it appeared as if Blake was debating a pass despite the clock running down. For a player in dire need of more willingness to shoot, this was a welcome sight.

Shannon Brown
Defensively, some assignments were missed, but on a night when the offense was often reduced to jumpers, a player whose shot has been notably absent of late rediscovered some rhythm at the right time. Five of seven shots (14 points) dropped from spots all over the court, and Shannon's overall decision-making was better throughout the varied assault. Whether letting fly off the catch from beyond the arc or driving to release a gorgeous floater along the baseline, the action wasn't forced. Good things happen when you don't try to do too much.

Matt Barnes
This was the most Barnes has resembled himself since returning from knee surgery, whether you're talking about the nine points, the two steals or the feisty jawing at Michael Beasley when the K-State product reacted in livid (and justifiable) fashion to a flagrant foul from Andrew Bynum. Hopefully, he'll continue rounding into form.

Lowlights

General sloppiness
I mentioned in today's "What to watch" post how three days between games could result in cobwebs. By the way the team played tonight, you'd have thought three years had passed.

Simply put, the Lakers were all over the place. Defensive rotations went from sharp on one possession to looser than a town crier's lips for the next three. Static body language persisted when the Lakers had the ball. There was a lot of standing around, with very little action happening away from the rock. Shot selection typically left plenty to be desired, as long, quick jumpers were the approach du jour. Iso'ed possessions became all the rage. 23 assists were racked, but despite a few sensational passes, it felt like fewer. Conversely, the ball was turned over 16 times, and it felt like way more.

All in all, not one for the time capsule.

Pau Gasol
On one hand, he scored 25 on a very efficient 12-for-17 clip, so from a purely offensive standpoint, Gasol was productive. There were also four blocks, which reflects specific instances of defensive awareness. On the other hand, the work everywhere else was pretty spotty. Nikola Pekovic was allowed a shockingly easy layup after a feed inside and Phil Jackson criticized his pick-and-roll defense after the game. Pau's work on the glass also lagged, as he managed just five rebounds in his fourth consecutive game. It's a number too low on the boards, but too high in the turnover column. Guess how many Pau had, often through carelessness?

Kobe Bryant
The desire to gut out a sprained left ankle Jackson described before the game as still fairly gruesome speaks to The Mamba's quest to never miss a game. (Adding injury to injury, he was also floored after a face-to-face collision with Martell Webster, which resulted in a very sore neck.) Unfortunately, there are no points awarded for "guts," nor do missed baskets get automatic do-overs because a guy is balling on a bad wheel. Kobe seemed nowhere close to healthy during this game, and the impact was often painful, literally and figuratively.

The first quarter was concluded with five misses on as many tries and with the exception of back-to-back triples near the close of the second frame, Bryant failed to hit a basket during the first half. Rookie Wesley Johnson was the one primarily checking Kobe, which seemed to elevate his frustration. As the game progressed, Bryant appeared determined to disprove the notion that a kid could shut him down. (That Johnson happened to go off for 29 probably didn't help matters, either.) The mindset mostly resulted in more bad shots (six-for-17 from the field) and labored dribbling trying to create for himself. Two of Kobe's four turnovers came from passes after getting caught in the air, a surefire way to find trouble.

When Brown took Kobe's place to begin the second half -- Kobe wanted some extra time to stretch out the ankle -- I was torn. Part of me was obviously concerned and hoping for the best regarding Bryant's health, so the most reassuring sight is him taking the floor again. But given these struggles, there was also a part wanting him to remain in the locker room. This just wasn't about to evolve into his night.

Andrew Bynum
For most of the night, Drew was piecing together the best game of any Laker. 14 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. 10 points. A pair of blocks. More energy than the majority of teammates. The kid has been on a roll of late, and he seemed determined to keep the train on its tracks.

Unfortunately, any good vibes came to a screeching halt after Bynum's frustration over an offensive foul resulted in an elbow to an airborne Beasley's ribs as the forward attempted a layup. It was a reckless and ridiculous play on Drew's part, and unfortunately similar to a sequence in 2009 where Bynum left Gerald Wallace with a punctured lung and a collapsed rib. (Beasley actually left this game with a bruised left hip.) I don't consider Drew a dirty player, but in both cases, these were dirty plays.

The ensuing flagrant 2 was a no-brainer, and I'd be very surprised if Bynum wasn't suspended for Sunday's important game against Portland, which makes the act even dumber. I understand why Bynum was steamed, but there are considerably better ways to handle the situation.