LOS ANGELES – Just one day removed from the news that Kobe Bryant would miss at least six weeks with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, the Los Angeles did not skip a beat on Friday night as they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-91.
In Bryant’s absence, his teammates picked up the slack offensively as Nick Young, Pau Gasol, and Xavier Henry combined for 67 pts. It was not of the team’s comfort zone to find a way to score without the 15-time All-Star as they have played 19 games this season without him and were 10-9 during that stretch.
“It just prepared us. We started without (Bryant), and right now unfortunately we’re without him,” Henry said, who had 21 points which was also his fourth 20-point game this season. “We know we can play . We know we can win games. We have the confidence that we have other people. So it’s fine, we will weather the storm without him.”
Henry scored 11 of his 21 points in the first quarter with Los Angeles shooting 64 percent from the field that helped give them a 35-26 advantage. Their hot shooting in the opening quarter also including 12 assists on 14 made shots from the field.
It was a different story in the second quarter for Los Angeles as they started to play sloppy by committing 10 turnovers that helped contribute to Minnesota grabbing momentum and going on a 19-7 run to give them a 53-51 halftime lead. Although the Timberwolves only shot 38 percent from the field in the second quarter, they still outscored the Lakers 27-10 which included 11 of Kevin Love’s 20 first half points.
The third quarter featured some back and fourth action with the lead changing nine times, but Los Angeles was able to take command as they used a 8-2 run to end the quarter that included six points from Young with four coming from a 4-point play to give them a 81-76 lead.
Young knew that he along with his teammates have to step up with Bryant being out for an extended period of time.
“Yeah, you know we keep going through different game plans,” Young said, who had a team-high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. “One day we had Kobe, and one day we didn’t. It’s tough, but somehow we just came together. We knew we had to get a win . This is (just) one of theams that is in front of us. Every game counts.”
But the story of the game, was the play of Gasol late in the fourth quarter where he scored nine of the Lakers’ last 14 points scored in the game. This included seven straight points with a 3-pointer that was off a loose ball off of Young that gave Los Angeles a 95-89.
For Gasol it was the moment after the made 3-pointer with Young that made the difference for him offensively late in the game.
“It was a big shot with a little bit of luck,” Gasol said, who had a near triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. “It was also a last second shot (to beat) the shot clock, and when I turned around he was right there in my face and he kind of got me going. I kind of gave him a little bit of his celebration when hits his 3’s. It was good and I think it’s important for our team especially with everything we’re going through.”
As for Gasol moving forward, he wants to use Friday’s performance as a springboard to get himself going offensively.
“I try to establish myself ,and be aggressive and make things happen for myself and my teammates,” Gasol said. “So that’s what I’ll try and form now every single game.”
Head coach Mike D’Antoni saw the game as a collective team effort that led the Lakers to their 13th win of the season.
“The biggest thing was with the whole. You could just see the chemistry between them,” Mike D’Antoni said. “They were excited to play. Xavier did a great job of just getting into stuff. Nick Young, like I said we could just go down the whole list of guys that really contributed and the spirit. That’s how they were doing before (when Bryant was out) and they just need to continue to do it. Keep the poise, that’s just one game but it was a good one.”
Los Angeles faces a tough task on Saturday on the road against the Golden State Warriors on the second game of back to back games. The last time the Lakers faced the Warriors was in the second game of the season and that was also on a second game of back to backs which resulted in a blown out 125-94 loss.
After not playing in 12 out of the last 13 games, with his only appearance coming in Dec. 13’s 122-97 road game loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chris Kaman played 16 minutes on Friday as he scored six points to go along with three rebounds and two blocks.
It has been a sporadic amount of playing time for Kaman, as he initially was out due to back problems and it opened up an opportunity for Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre to play. Each player had performed well in his absence and that in itself made it a difficult for D’Antoni to put the 31-year old back in his rotation.
But with Kaman’s solid performance in his limited time on the floor on Friday, it now makes the juggling act with minutes harder for D’Antoni to deal with.
“I thought he played real well (tonight),” D’Antoni said. “It makes it tough to find them minutes. You saw Robert Sacre didn’t play a whole lot, but Robert is important (as) he plays well. So there is still juggling there and with a lot of the guys there is a bit of a traffic jam. Some guys get lost in the shuffle, not meaning that they are not good.”
“It’s just that you need a certain amount of minutes to play well. You can’t play guys five minutes, 3 minutes, one minute and they make a mistake and you put the other guy in. You just can’t do that. I will drive them crazy and they will all hate me. I rather have one hate me than five of them.”
D’Antoni did however give clarity on Kaman’s situation as he stated that he would be playing in Saturday’s game.
Photo Credit: Lakers.com
Bob Garcia IV
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