Twenty minutes after a 2-point overtime loss to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers, Zach LaVine sat in front of his locker, putting on a floridly color-blocked sock inside out. It was LaVine’s foul on Jordan Clarkson that sent Clarkson to the line with 0.3 seconds left in the extra period to seal the win and he seemed none too happy about it. Assistant coach Ryan Saunders strode with purpose through the locker room and sat next to LaVine, leaning in and placing a hand on his shoulder, speaking quietly but intensely to the 20-year-old rookie for half a minute before clapping him on the back and standing. By this time, LaVine had gotten the sock inside right. Continue Reading…
Archives For Los Angeles Lakers
While Kobe Bryant can elicit some pretty polarized takes on how great he is or isn’t, how nice he is or isn’t, how good of a leader/teammate that he is or isn’t, and everything else involved with historic players, what you can’t deny is his psychotic, competitive nature that has fueled one of the greatest careers you could ever imagine. To be completely honest with everybody, I was beyond jealous that I wasn’t in the Target Center Sunday night when Kobe passed Michael Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list. Sure, it’s come in what will essentially be a lost/wasted season for Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers, but history is history, and the Target Center saw something no other building will ever see — Kobe passing Jordan on the all-time scoring list.
The game was another injury-riddled loss by the Wolves, desperate for the direction of a point guard with a little bit of a veteran touch at his disposal. But there were aspects to this game that were fascinating. Mostly, they resided around the burning desire of Kobe to kill the defender in front of him, despite the Hall of Famer being at the end of his rope athletically (relatively speaking, of course). 36-year old Kobe Bryant plays a megalomaniacal brand of basketball. It’s both an inspiration to those that have come after him and a cautionary tale of finding the right balance between hubris and a pathos of sorts. That’s not a knock on Bryant either. If anything, it’s a compliment about a player that by all historical measurements shouldn’t be able to do what he does anymore.
Kobe is the league’s third leading scorer after 1,269 games, 18-plus years, and over 46,000 minutes in the NBA. That just doesn’t happen. The retort is about how he’s shooting under 40.0% from the field while hoisting all of these shots that allow him to be the scoring leader. And it’s completely correct. He’s allowed to play a certain way that almost no other player has ever been afforded at this point in their careers. To me, that’s why it’s so impressive and it’s a blueprint for competitiveness that I pray someone on the Wolves picks up. I’ll explain: Continue Reading…
This was a weird game. It was a fun game. It was a game that showed just exactly where the Minnesota Timberwolves need to be this season while seeing just how dire things are for the Los Angeles Lakers. In a 120-119 win over the Lakers, we saw just how horrendous the Lakers can be and how energizing and cathartic their defense can be for struggling opponents. And that’s what the Wolves have been since Ricky Rubio went down with his ankle injury — they’ve been struggling.
It’s probably why the Lakers felt like they’d get an easy victory at home against the Wolves. This is a Wolves team missing three starters and three important starters at that. We all know how important Rubio is and have seen that night in and night out since his injury. Nikola Pekovic is the type of post scorer that can make a frontcourt like the Lakers’ feel like quitting basketball with his punishing post play. And Kevin Martin can torch Kobe Bryant at this stage in their respective careers just as easily as Kobe can torch Martin. It’s all about putting pressure on an embarrassing defensive effort that looks to be historically poor.
You mostly hurt the Lakers’ offense in two ways: Continue Reading…
In the skyway back to the parking lot after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ comprehensive mangling of the Los Angeles Lakers 143-107, two Laker fans stood vigil with a view of the exit to the visiting team bus. This was well after most of the crowd had made their way to their cars and the skyway was mostly empty.
Below, other fans stood a meager layer deep waiting for a dejected Lakers team to make their way to the bus. The 143 points Minnesota put up set a new Timberwolves franchise record and also gave them their largest win since a 42-point victory over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2009. Their 67.1% shooting set a single-game franchise record and was the highest in the NBA so far this season. Kevin Love had a triple double at the end of the third quarter. Nikola Pekovic was a plus-38, Jordan Hill a minus-38. The Wolves biggest lead was 41 points, the Lakers biggest lead, zero.
These two Lakers fans, in jerseys and hats, in Forum blue and gold, waited. If this Laker team manages two more wins this season, they’ll be spared the ignominy of having the second-worst win total in Laker history, beating out their 25-50 finish in 1959-60 and their 19-53 finish in 1957-58. They were still the Minneapolis Lakers during those two seasons. Terrible basketball has a long tradition in Minnesota.
Maybe that’s why these fans who come out of the woodwork in the visiting team’s colors for games against the Lakers, the Heat, are such easy targets. Being a Wolves fan for any serious amount of time demands resilience. It fosters a mistrust of success, an expectation of disappointment. At the core of this fandom is the sense that it has to be earned with hardship, not bought in the form of a #24 jersey with “BRYANT” on the back.
Even an offensive explosion like last night’s — a game Nikola Pekovic, back from injury, called “a triumph from the very first moment” — is going to bring with it a sour little note: Where was this kind of performance when it could have gotten them into the playoffs, when it could have mattered?
But “mattered” is a strangely relative term. Since the Wolves have fallen out of contention for a playoff spot, they’ve been peppered with questions about what there’s left to play for and they’ve given the same bland, generic responses that most athletes do in such situations. Stuff about still having things to learn, about seeing where they are for next year, about playing hard because that’s what you do.
But last night there was a little pure joy in the game. Returning to the bench after starting six games and putting up a double-double in all but one of them, Gorgui Dieng got a hero’s welcome when he checked into the game for the first time at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. Some of the applause was also no doubt for Pekovic’s sterling effort in that first quarter, where he went 4-4 and scored 12 points. And some of it may have been for the simple fact that a bench player checking in for the Wolves was not a reason to nervously bite your fingernails. Dieng acquitted himself well in his backup role with 14 points and 9 rebounds. (“The guys were giving him a pretty hard time there with only nine rebounds,” said Adelman in his postgame presser.)
And as the third quarter was ending with the Wolves up comfortably, an errant Laker shot bounced harmlessly towards the Wolves bench. Love was the closest to the ball and the Minnesota bench, well aware of his 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, starting shouting, “GET IT! GET IT! GET IT!” When Love gamely scooped the ball off the ground for a buzzer beating rebound, they cheered. In the break between quarters they patted him on the back and smiled. Everyone was just having a good time.
You can take what you will from a historic win like this at the tail end of a disappointing season. You can say that when the chips are down, this team didn’t step up, that their inability to close out games shows a lack of character. That any team can have a good time when they’re romping all over an opponent as hopeless as the Lakers. That Love is leaving so none of it matters. I get it: It’s a weird thing how at the end of a bad thing, there are good things.
But then I think about those Lakers fans waiting for their team — without Kobe Bryant, without Pau Gasol, without any clear path beyond lottery luck — and I think about why they’re out there in the skyway. It’s possible they’re Los Angeles transplants, that they grew up there and grew up with the Lakers, that they’re sticking by their hometown team. But I would almost prefer for them to be bandwagon fans who jumped on a frontrunner because of the glitz, the rings, the Black Mamba. Maybe the weird thing for them is that they actually started liking the team and now they can’t get out of it.
One way or another, we end up places. We get there by a mix of things we can control and things we can’t, and then we have the choice of either leaving or sticking around. Those Lakers fans and this Timberwolves team last night are a reminder: If you’re sticking around, at least try to enjoy yourself. It’s just much easier on your constitution.
I used to play basketball with a guy we’ll call Chris. We’ll call him Chris because that’s his name. I never actually knew his last name. He went to my old gym in Sacramento and was part of the regular games we’d run on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights. He’d also be around for Thursday nights sometimes but that was typically just two-on-two basketball. Those Thursday night two-on-two runs were the toughest ones.
A lot of people would rather play full court basketball for many reasons, but mostly it’s because it’s so much easier than half court basketball. Full court pick-up basketball is mostly a game of cardio and skill. Sure, it’s not going to be two hours of fast breaks but you’re getting to choose the type of workout and effort you’re giving. That’s not so much the case when you’re suckered into playing a half court pickup game. Half court basketball requires a lot more strength than you’d play in a normal basketball game.
You’re not getting space by running the floor and putting pressure on the defense to pick up. Instead, you have to constantly use physical play and more muscle to find the necessary space in a half court game to make plays. There is more pushing, more positioning, and much more physicality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a different style of basketball that forces you to exert more energy throughout your body, rather than just getting some good cardio in.
Watching the way the Los Angeles Lakers adjusted to Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of that guy Chris when we had to play two-on-two with him.
Chris was physical. He ended up joining the Marines at some point, so he was a very tough guy. He had very little basketball skill, but he could throw his 6’3″ body around, hack the crap out of your arms, and was borderline dangerous to play against because he was clumsy in the way he moved around you. You knew you were going to get beat up a bit if you played against Chris because that’s just the way he played.
We saw something similar in the second half against the Lakers. All of a sudden, they turned a free-flowing game they couldn’t keep up with into a physical game they had nothing to lose from being in. We already had Gorgui Dieng take one in the temple and leave the game. Luckily, he’s fine. Then for some ungodly reason, Nick Young figured out if you pressure the hell out of Corey Brewer, he’s largely ineffective on offense. He started denying Brewer the ball 40 feet from the basket and it took a few possessions for the Wolves to just forego the unnecessary ball swing that starts with Brewer.
By that time, the rhythm of the game that the Wolves had controlled was dead and they were finding themselves in a bit of a scrappy affair.
I wonder how much of the second half of this game was the Wolves not taking a horrendous Lakers’ roster/lineup seriously and how much of it was the Lakers adjusting perfectly to what the Wolves were trying to do. It was probably a healthy portion of each and the Wolves just figured talent would win out. And it did, but not without paying an unnecessary price.
Robert Sacre is a big physical guy. He has some basketball skill and showed a decent little touch around the basket and with his jumper in this game. But mostly, he’s out there to bang some bodies around and give guys bruises. He’s such a big human being that he probably doesn’t even realize the force in which he hits people. He’s also such a solid mass of muscle that large human beings just bounce off of him when they collide. That’s what happened when Kevin Love drove against Wes Johnson with a little over four minutes left in the fourth quarter of a game that should have been long over.
First off, this was scary. I was behind the Wolves’ bench on the other end of the floor and I heard him slam into the ground as the crowd is making noise. That is a loud thud, my friends. He abused his tailbone there and had some whiplash that caused his head to snap back and hit the ground. However, he was so lucid and didn’t complain about his head that they didn’t feel the need to test for a concussion. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, even though he did seem fine, but that’s the trainer’s call to make. He clearly knows that job better than I do.
Love stayed in for most of the rest of the game, was a warrior on the boards, scored a few points, and the Wolves avoided an embarrassing loss. Sacre was physical with Love in help and Wes Johnson managed to harass him plenty. They hammered him on the boards and ran to make him work as his body was probably screaming at him to go sit down.
It was that unnecessary use of muscle due to letting the Lakers make it an ugly game that allowed such a dangerous situation to present itself. Instead of free-flowing, it turned uncoordinatedly physical. They were shoving all over the half court instead of running in the open court because they didn’t adjust or didn’t take it seriously or whatever reason there is. They were always going to beat the Lakers because talent pretty much always wins out in the NBA as long as an acceptable level of effort is there. But instead of the third unit handling the final six minutes, the Wolves screwed around and let it be closer than it needed to be.
It’s not a huge deal; it’s just hopefully a reminder to the team of how important it is to take advantage of an inferior opponent by exerting the necessary energy to put the game away early. If you don’t, you run the risk of your star player nearly getting a concussion for no reason.
Coaching is a dark art. I’ve long been wary of judging coaches based on what we can see of their job: how they are on the bench, how they use their timeouts, what plays they call out of timeouts and in late-game situations, who they play when. There’s just so much of the job that we have no access to, and even the stuff we can see is difficult to parse in the same manner as the advanced analytics we’ve come to expect for players. There are no on/off numbers for coaches. A head coach creates an entire environment for a team and everything that occurs for a team occurs within that environment. A head coach is the old fish swimming by asking, “How’s the water?” and we’re all the fish asking, “What’s water?”
With that said, I’ve begun to doubt Rick Adelman. Continue Reading…
That the Lakers are the NBA’s most colossal, most fascinating bummer has been well-documented. In the past, they were un-lovable but majestic. You could hate Kobe’s post-dagger jawfaces, you could hate Phil Jackson’s finely tailored beard and bullying spiritualism, but you could also marvel at their success and be awed by the sight of basketball beautifully played.
Now, however, we’ve got the same sense of blithe, Californian entitlement, the same terrible fans, the same petulant Kobe (he’s the only player I can think of who could drop 14 assists as an act of contempt) only now without the beauty and without the winning. David Roth, writing at Vice, has the definitive account of their poisoned well of a season. He put it this way:
If a winning Lakers team evokes the smugness of a Magic of the Movies montage during an Oscars telecast, a losing one reflects a different and more forlorn LA—a million hideous publicist-planted upskirts and celebrity DUI mugshots and pill-powered Daniel Baldwin car chases, all narrated in the sneer-scream of a TMZ correspondent.
Not deliciously infuriating, then, just lonely and depressing. If the Lakers’ signature failing has been their caustic team culture, then a close second has been the awful, awful defense. Consider: their starting point guard is 38 years old and was, during his prime, among the league’s worst defenders; their two other veteran stars are playing the worst defense of their careers; their bench is populated by the Antawn Jamisons and Steve Blakes and Jodie Meekses of the world. Its easy to understand, then, just how badly the Lakers miss even a much-diminished Dwight Howard anchoring the middle.
The AP reports (via ESPN.com):
The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying hard to land Pau Gasol. If they have to part with the highest draft choice in franchise history after just one season, the Wolves appear ready to do it. That much became clear leading up to the NBA draft on Thursday night, when Minnesota offered Derrick Williams in hopes of landing the second pick from the Charlotte Bobcats to help get Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers, two people with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press.
Teaming Gasol with Ricky Rubio has long been a dream of David Kahn’s–and evidently the Wolves are still looking to make a deal to land the big Spaniard. I have no doubt that a Gasol-Love frontcourt as coached by Rick Adelman is a nice idea. But I wonder: does giving up on the second pick in the draft in exchange for a 32-year-old star smack of impatience? After all how old, and how effective, will Gasol be when Rubio reaches his prime?
The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Wolves roster looks exactly the same as it did when we woke up this morning. The juiciest rumor had been a proposed three-team deal between the Lakers, Blazers and Wolves that would have sent Michael Beasley to L.A., Luke Ridnour to Portland (along with Steve Blake and LA’s first-rounder) and netted Jamal Crawford for the Wolves. But when we saw that the Lakers had used their picks to score Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, we had to know that the deal had to be dead.
Now, there’s no question that it might have been nice to see the Wolves improve the roster or net a pick by moving Beasley rather than allowing him to become a restricted free-agent this summer. And it would also have been nice to land Crawford, upgrading their offensive production at the two-guard. But to my mind, the price of that deal was a little high. First of all, while Beasley alone for Crawford might not have a been an exactly equal deal for Portland, Beasley and Ridnour together seems a bit much. Ridnour has actually been a more efficient, though considerably lower-volume, scorer than Crawford over the past three seasons. He’s also a much better passer and defender, even when giving up multiple inches at the two.
Given that the Wolves claim to be pursuing a playoff spot this season, a starting backcourt of J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford seems to be conspicuously lacking in an actual playmaker, someone who can consistently serve the ball to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. And even if it was a Crawford/Rubio pairing the Wolves were ultimately after, Crawford has an opt-out clause in his contract for next season. In other words, the Wolves would have been trading their only healthy true point guard for a high-volume gunner who wasn’t even guaranteed to be around past July. Seems like they lucked out to me.
Since there will be no basketball for the foreseeable future and I’d kind of forgotten how terrible and nervy I used to feel when the Wolves were in the playoffs, I thought it might be “fun” to reach back into Youtube’s dark ether and extract some of our past lives. Lets talk 2003. I’m living in New York, with little money to speak of and no cable, watching the Wolves in dark bars, drinking what many might consider to be “too much,” feeling sad a lot.
The Wolves are the fourth seed in the playoffs but as foul luck and the ridiculously stacked Western Conference would have it, the Lakers are the five. After getting shelled at home in game 1, the Wolves come back to blow out the Lakers in game 2. Then, improbably, after blowing a five point lead with seconds to play and conceding an absurd four-point play to Kobe (David Stern actually apologized for that one) the Wolves manage to salvage game 3 in overtime (in LA no less!). And so game 4 was shaping up to be the decisive game of the series; either the Wolves would go up 3-1 with two more games to play in Minneapolis or the series would be tied 2-2. So I watched game four. And it was almost as nauseating as I remember it.