Surely this is a tired angle, but it’s true nonetheless.
If there was ever promise to be shown in a 17 point loss, last night our Wolves managed to do so against the Lakers. Moral victories may not appear in the standings, but they do provide the necessary motivation to push through a rough schedule and Kurt Rambis’ postgame comments spoke to as much.
“Well obviously that wasn’t the result that we wanted, but I thought our guys did a really good job for a vast majority of the ball game. We stuck to our game plan, we got the shots that we wanted, we just couldn’t make shots. And they’re a team that can take your defense-your good defense-and make a shot that can turn your defense into nothing.”
This is unquestionably true. Los Angeles not only features the virtuoso Kobe Bryant, but a cavalcade of talented postmen and dead eye shooters who all maintain the savvy and selflessness to compensate for the occasional off night from a teammate. That’s exactly what happened on this particular evening. Despite a debatable shot selection from Kobe and one of the poorer outings I’ve seen from Pau Gasol since donning the purple and gold, the Lakers still coasted through this matchup thanks to the heady play of their bench, particularly Matt Barnes.
Barnes ‘pitched’ the equivalent of a perfect game, with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and not a single turnover or missed shot. (This is only the third instance of 20/5/5 on 100% in the last 25 years.) But we would be mistaken not to give a significant portion of that credit to Michael Beasley. Granted, I am neither an assistant coach, nor privy to the defensive game plan, but practically every open shot Barnes saw was due to Beasley’s inattentiveness. He strayed too far from his man to provide help in situations where it wasn’t needed and he was ill positioned to provide even if it was. Stuck on an island between his assignment and his attempted doubles, Beas watched shot after uncontested shot sail through the basket as Barnes flicked his way into the history books. Which is a shame because he began the night with a crowd pleasing block of a Bryant layup in the open court and appeared primed for another breakout performance. Though in his defense, more than a few of those doubles were in the direction of Kobe Bryant. But again, they weren’t exactly needed seeing as Wesley Johnson more than held his own with the Mamba, prodding him into a woeful 8-27 from the field.
This was one of those times where Johnson’s play was more reflective of his age than his rookie status. Early in the first quarter Wes held his follow through just a little too long for it to be anything other than posing as he nailed an open jumper over Kobe. Following a turnover from Kevin Love on the next Wolves possession, Bryant suffered the indignity of the aforementioned block from Beasley and a murmur reverberated throughout the building that perhaps a sleeping dog-or snake in this case-had been awoken. For if there’s anyone who enjoys bullying underlings more than our former landlord, Mr.Garnett, it’s Kobe Bryant. But try as he did, Johnson bumped and bodied Bryant into an increasingly tougher series of shots by refusing to fall for any of Kobe’s magnificent upfakes or pivots.
Enjoy it for what it was Wes, but then leave it behind. Because we both know Kobe didn’t like it and he sure as hell won’t forget it.
But back to Beasley. Mr.Polk noted that Beas’ torrid start has been the talk of the interwebs and as my pregame interview shows, Super Cool certainly isn’t short on confidence. However, this is a real defense he was facing and it showed. L.A. is simply too long and collectively smart. They recognize and recover too quickly for an inexperienced team like our Wolves, who boast only one viable scoring threat. The Lakers locker room whiteboard emphasized that they must be ready for Beasley off of screens and be prepared to capitalize on mistakes. Mike ended up dribbling far more than usual and the Lakers made him pay with a help defender ready to poke the ball away on every attempted attack of the basket. Now it should be noted that a few shots rimmed out contributing to his 9-22 shooting, but he also had six turnovers and the game began to slip away when he went to the bench with his second foul after a miscue midway through the second stanza. (Minnesota was down 8 with 7:24 remaining the 2nd and the deficit immediately ballooned to 16 upon his trip to the bench.)
One of the great pleasures of this ‘job’ is that instead of speculating the root causes these performances on my couch, I have the opportunity to discuss them with the players themselves. Of course sometimes I’d be better off on the couch instead of being bombarded with cliches and jockspeak, but the moments when I’m blessed with an insightful evaluation from an actual professional more than makes up for it. I had a chance to chat with Ron Artest postgame and as always, he provided analysis in a way that only he can.
Michael Beasley has been hot the past few games and his sweet spots are obviously around the elbows. I noticed that you…
“He’s gotta get another sweet spot.
He’s a good player. They’ve gotta teach him how to play ball. He could be such a good player, but he’s doing just one thing. He’s so athletic, he could make you work a lot of the time, but he’s just playing one way. He’s going all the way to the hole or he’s going to shoot. He’s not getting no assists. It’s not his fault, he’s a young player. Somebody should tell him. This is his first year really doing him. He’s been playing under Dwyane Wade and in the shadow of Wade. But he should be having more assists and more rebounds. He should be playing more defense. With more defense, his numbers are gonna go down, but that’s a sacrifice. He could be a winner, but somebody’s gotta teach him how to win though. Right now he’s just shining. That’s not enough.
The game should be harder to play against his team. He can shoot, he can get to the hole and he can pass, but he’s just standing up there and not making the pass. He’s gotta make his teammates better. He should watch LeBron. He’s actually a better shooter than LeBron. He’s a better shooter, right? But the smarts are not there. He needs to watch LeBron.
But I’m the last person who should be talking though, cause I gotta guard him.”
Now asking Ron Artest about Michael Beasley is akin to asking Bobby what’s wrong with Whitney, but I have to say, the man might be right. Lost in the hubbub surrounding Beas’ point totals are some relatively low assist counts and it is oft repeated that the secondary skill of a scorer should be passing. It is worth paying attention to Michael’s play as the season progresses to see if he can indeed create easy opportunities for teammates as defenses become more aggressive. As for the rebounds, well, we know those all belong to Kevin anyway.
(Speaking of, Kev, let’s pretend last night didn’t happen.)
Ultimately, the difference between these two teams is that the Wolves absolutely have to be firing on all cylinders to remain competitive. On this night, there was only one, but boy was he firing….
All-Time Games in Wolves History with 20+ Pts/15+ Reb/5+ ast/5+ blocks
Kevin Garnett 3/31/2006 vs DEN: 22 pts, 16 reb, 7 ast, 7 blk
Kevin Garnett 11/04/2004 vs DEN: 25 pts, 16 reb, 7 ast, 7 blk
Kevin Garnett 3/21/2003 vs SAS: 24 pts, 18 reb, 8 ast, 5 blk
Kevin Garnett 2/16/2003 vs GSW: 37 pts, 22 reb, 6 ast, 5 blk
Kevin Garnett 12/19/2001 vs NJ: 29 pts, 21 reb, 7 ast, 5 blk
Kevin Garnett 3/21/2001 vs DAL: 28 pts, 15 reb, 6 ast, 5 blk
Darko Milicic 11/19/2010 vs LAL: 23 pts, 16 reb, 5 ast, 6 blk (All career highs)
Sayeth the Darko of his performance?
“I had a great night, but if you lose the game it doesn’t count.”
Sure it does, buddy. Sure it does…