LOS ANGELES– It was a battle between two teams in the bottom five in the league in the standings, which the Los Angeles Lakers prevailed over the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-98 with Ryan Kelly leading the way with a season-high 21 points.
Los Angeles held a 52-47 lead at the break, which they expanded in a hurry in the second half with a 22-7 run to open the third quarter to grab a game-high 18 point advantage. Minnesota chipped away at the deficit, but it proved to be too insurmountable.
It was balanced offensive attack by the Lakers finishing with entire starting lineup in double figures, which was just the sixth time they achieved that feat this season. Minnesota got as close as six points in the last two minutes of the game, but back to back dunks by Tarik Black sealed the win for Los Angeles.
Los Angeles had a season-high 35 assists on 41 made field goals to go along with a 52-40 edge in points in the paint. Jordan Clarkson finished with 18 points and nine assists. Jabari Brown had 20 points with a career-high seven assists. Black had a double-double with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. Dwight Buycks had a career-best six assists.
Wiggins led the way for the Timberwolves in the loss with a double-double with a game-high 29 point to go along with 10 rebounds, and six assists.
Following the Lakers 21st win of the season, here are five things we learned:
Clarkson continues to develop
Clarkson had another matchup against a fellow rookie drafted ahead of him in Zach LaVine, he came to play once again.
He got things going early scoring nine points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting with two assists, and two rebounds in the first quarter. Clarkson did it drilling a 3-pointer, knocked down a fade-away baseline jumper, and dunked down an alley-oop.
The 22-year-old was quite in the second quarter with a driving layup being his lone basket in the period, and also dished out an assist. He also had just four points in the third in, but turned to get teammates involved as he dished out four assists in the period.
In the fourth quarter with a comfortable lead in hand, Clarkson did have one impressive behind-the-back assist on the fast break to Brown for the layup. Besides that his offensive contribution was minimal in the period with his only basket in the period coming with 26.1 seconds left on a layup to put his team up 105-95.
Despite that, it was another well-rounded effort by Clarkson filling up the stat sheet with 18 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and tied a career-high with four steals.
Clarkson’s performance was another step in the right direction, and the last three games of the season will be his chance to gain more experience and further his case as being the Lakers’ starting point guard next year.
Kelly has best game of season
It has been a season full of ups and downs for the Lakers, and the same could be said for the second-year forward.
This was not the case on Friday as the 24-year-old poured out a season high 21 points with also a season-high seven assists, and eight rebounds.
Kelly got it going early with eight of the Lakers’ first 18 points that included a pair of 3-pointers. Following a quite second quarter, he was a factor in third quarter scoring all nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
It was a well-balanced effort by Kelly as he picked and chose he spots to take shots shooting an effective 7-of-12 from the field. For Scott, the Lakers balanced attack that included a season-high 35 team assists began with Kelly’s unselfishness on the floor.
“I thought the first quarter we moved the ball about as well as we moved it all season long and a lot of that had to do with Ryan,” Scott said. “We just did a better job of moving the ball, and playing without an agenda. The open man gets the ball, and tonight Ryan was the guy that started.”
It has been a difficult second season for Kelly as he began the year dealing with hamstring issues that forced him to miss 29 out of the first 31 games of the season. He also struggled mightily playing at small forward, which is something Scott feels that Kelly will now stick to playing at power forward moving forward.
However, Kelly feels that difficult process has helped him grow into a better player playing at the stretch power forward role.
“Obviously starting off with the hamstring stuff was a pain in the butt,” Kelly said. “Then being put into a position that was different then what I had been playing for most of my career as a basketball player certainly made it a learning experience.
“This summer was a whirlwind and I was trying to work on my game, but when I thrust into that role I took advantage of that opportunity to learn and expand my game. Was it pretty as I wanted it to be? Certainly not. But like I said there is no question that I became a better player playing that position.”
For Scott, it is Kelly’s comfort playing at power forward that has allowed him to play “more freely” with better confidence in his game with a greater result.
“[The three position] wasn’t a comfortable position for him. Scott said. “A lot of it was done out of necessity, but I think moving back to his natural position has allowed him to be a little bit more comfortable out there, and to play basketball a little more freely. I think it’s shown since hes’ been at the four, he’s played much better. That’s his natural position.”
Although there is much to play for in terms of team-oriented goals with no playoffs, Kelly sees the last three games of the season as his chance to prove that he belongs in the Lakers’ future plans.
“For me individually it’s super valuable,” Kelly said. “I haven’t had the season I would of liked looking back on it, so every opportunity I have these last few (games) it’s an opportunity to continue to prove to coaching staff, my teammates, and the fans that I should be here.”
What third quarter woes?
This season the third quarter hasn’t been kind to the Lakers as they have allowed a league-worst 27.2 points in the period. However, that was not the case against the Timberwolves on Friday night.
They entered the second half with a five points lead, and quickly expanded on that with a 22-7 spurt to open the quarter to grab a 22-point advantage. Kelly led the charge with nine points by going 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Although it was the Lakers offense that allowed them to jump out to a huge lead, it was their defense during the run forcing Minnesota to shoot just 3-of-8 from the field.
The Timberwolves were able to battle back to cut the deficit to just nine points, but the run to begin the quarter gave them the needed momentum to maintain a double-digit advantage throughout the period. The Lakers came out of the locker room with the type of energy and aggressive offensive attitude they have lacked for much of this season.
It may have been against a lesser opponent in Minnesota, but it could be the type of the motivation they need in order to best a playoff team in the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
Evaluation process still ongoing
The 2014-15 regular season may be entering it’s final stages, but Scott has repeatedly made it clear that the evaluation process for next season is still a continuing matter.
“These guys got four more games to show us what they can do,” Scott said. “Hopefully last game is their best game. That last impression normally leaves a sweeter taste in your mouth. So we will see how things turn out.”
Scott also added that he hasn’t gotten the sense that his players are counting to the end of the season, but at the same note he has made sure that they keep competing until the final game. His stance was instead quite the opposite from that of many Laker fans have pushing for “tanking” with the season being down the drain.
“I think true fans appreciate the fact that you have a job, and you’re going to try to do it to the best of your ability and if you lose a game so be it,” Scott said. “If you got out there to try to lose to me it’s ridiculous if you have any sense of what this profession is about.
“That’s not what you do. It’s just not in your nature. That’s not what this organization is all about. It never has been and never will be. We just try to go out and win every game, and if we lose so be it.”
Scott also understands there is still much misconception on his choice to play younger players and evaluate them for the future past this season, which is in turn being viewed by many as “tanking” towards a higher draft pick.
“You want to get a look at all the young guys that you have if they can be a part of the future,” Scott said. “Some people might say that is tanking. I don’t know, but I think is that you are really trying to evaluate the talent you have and put the best team you have next year. To me, it’s pretty simple.”
Whatever the case may be, there are three games remaining in the season, and as Scott stated it will be their last chance to make a good impression to be a part of next year’s plans.
Lin’s season could be done
It has been a troubling season for Lin in a Lakers’ uniform and things got a little more difficult this week as he could be done for the rest of the year.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, Scott stated he is “not sure at all” if Lin will be able to play in any of the final three games of the season.
Lin had missed last Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets because of the soreness in his knee. An MRI later revealed an abnormality in the meniscus, which is something that remained an issue since he had underwent surgery on his knee in 2012.
Jabari Brown drew for the start for the second consecutive game. Brown had a productive night scoring 20 points and notching a career-best seven assists in Friday’s win.
Lin is averaging 11.2 points and 4.6 assists in 74 games played. However, since the All-Star break he has played significantly better averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 assists per game.This includes 15 double digit point outputs with three 20-plus point performances, and 13 games with at least five assists.
If Lin is unable to take the floor in the final three games, there is a very likely chance that he may have taken the floor for the last time as a Laker.