LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers snapped a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak by edging the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-115 behind Kobe Bryant‘s season-high 38 points.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Lakers took control of the game in the second quarter behind 21 combined points from D’Angelo Russell and Bryant with the team shooting 57.1 percent in the period. Los Angeles had four players in double figures to help give them a season-high 66 points in the first half.
Minnesota fought back in the second half erasing a once 16-point lead in the fourth quarter after a layup by Zach LaVine at 102-101 with just over five minutes left. Bryant gave the Lakers the lead once again with back to 3-pointers.
The Timberwolves continued to remain close with Andrew Wiggins leading the charge scoring 12 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bryant put the nail in the coffin with scoring eight points in the final minute.
Here are five things we learned on Tuesday night:
Bryant’s vintage night
For the second consecutive game, Bryant had a throwback game scoring a season-high 38 points, five rebounds, and five assists making him the fourth player age 37 or older in the last 30 seasons to record that stat line in a game joining Michael Jordan (three times), Karl Malone (three times), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (once)
Bryant had a half posting a game-high 15 points, including 10 points in the second quarter while knocking an efficient 4-of-7 shot attempts with three 3-pointers. The 37-year-old kept the ball rolling in the third quarter scoring a quarter-best nine points to help keep the Lakers ahead going into the fourth quarter.
Bryant checked back into the game late in the fourth quarter and knocked down two straight three-pointers to give the Lakers back the lead and momentum. However, he was at his best in the final minute of the game scoring eight points, including 14 out of the team’s last 18 points. He hit a fadeaway jumper to give the team a three-point lead with just under a minute left and knocked down six straight free throws to ice the game.
“That’s the way the game flowed and opportunities present themselves and taking advantage of them,” Bryant said. Everything really revolves around the jump shot. Shots are falling, making shots I’m supposed to make and the game kind of builds from there.”
It was another vintage performance from Bryant that showed some resonance of his former self knocking down shots with opponents draped all over him at times. It was certainly one of the team’s better nights in what’s been a disappointing season.
“He’s the greatest of my generation,” Wiggins said. “He perfected the game of basketball.”
With Larry Nance Jr. officially out until after the All-Star break, Randle once again drew the straight put together another productive night with his 19th double-double of the season posting 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The 21-year-old posted a near double-double in the first half ten points and six rebounds, but also got into foul trouble late in the second quarter. Randle made his most impact in the fourth quarter with the game on the line grabbing three defensive rebounds in key moments and hit a hook with 1:04 left to give his team an 111-108 lead.
“Julius was good. He was all over the place,” Scott said. “Keeping ball alive (and) getting offensive rebounds. He had some gigantic defensive rebounds towards the end and able to get to the basket. He played with the type energy and effort we need for him to play on a night-to-night basis. I continue to see growth from our young guys and that’s all I want to see.”
Randle has turned it up a notch since being reinserted into the starting lineup posting six double-double, while hauling at least eight or more rebounds in each of the nine games played. He has also shot over .500 from the field six times during that span.
His improved play over the last couple of weeks could drastically help improve his chance of retaining the starting gig in the second half of the season.
Wiggins is a scoring machine
Minnesota may be struggling this season, but the team is seeing much promise from their young core headed by Wiggins, who is averaging 20.4 in his second season in the league.
The 20-year-old continued his strong scoring season recording a team-high 30 points. He led the Timberwolves with a team-high 12 points in the first half, including going a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
Wiggins turned it up in the second half scoring 18, including 12 points in the fourth quarter that helped bring the Timberwolves back into the game and give them a chance to win. The second-year’s guard’s performance caught the attention of Bryant, especially his fadeaway shot over the 37-year-old late in the fourth quarter.
“I was very impressed by the way he was turning around the post,” Bryant said. “First year he came into the league, he was off balance and holding the ball too long. Now look it’s textbook. I was very impressed.”
Although Wiggins is shooting just 23.5 percent from three-point range, his progressing development in his second season has been extremely encouraging for the Timberwolves. He’s been one of bright spots on the team that could become playoff contenders in the near future.
In his first season in the NBA, the Timberwolves rookie center has quickly turned into the runaway front-runner for the top honor of his draft class essentially averaging a double-double with 16.6 points and 9.9 rebounds along with 1.8 blocks per game.
Towns added his impressive campaign against the Lakers notching a near double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. It was game that showed his versatility hitting a three-pointer, handling the ball like a guard while drives to the basket, and also knocked down a long mid-range jumper. He also had an impressive behind-the-back pass late in the game.
The 20-year-old leads all rookies in double-doubles while winning Western Conference Rookie of the Month for the third straight time to start the season, becoming just the second Timberwolves players to do so joining Wiggins. He led all qualified rookies in rebounding (10.9), blocks (1.63) and free throw percentage (87.2%) along with ranking sthird in scoring (16.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (53.5%).
All in all, what Tuesday night demonstrated once again is that Towns is a promising talent with an extremely bright future ahead of him.
It has been no secret that the Lakers have had monumental struggles defensive this season, and one of their biggest weakness has been defending the paint.
Los Angeles struggled early allowing Minnesota to score 20 points in the paint in the first quarter. This includes 16 out of their first 20 points for the game, which more points than the Lakers had at that point in the opening period.
Their struggles defending the paint continued in the second half giving up 32 points, which they allowed 14 points in the third quarter. In total, the Timberwolves scored 64 points in the paint on 32-of-45 attempted shots.
Although Scott has harped on the lack of perimeter defense at times, it has become a pressing issue overall for the team. It has only allowed teams to either extend leads or get back into games due to the lack of it. Tuesday’s game was a prime example as the Lakers’ lead diminished in the second with the Timberwolves attacking the paint.