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Where would the NBA be if teams in major markets didn’t win? Imagine the Los Angeles Lakers being right around the level of our Minnesota Timberwolves. Or even date back to the time where the post-Jordan Bulls were nothing but a faded memory. The NBA is structured so that these larger markets have the resources to build up such monstrous teams, so unbeatable that poor teams, such as our Puppies, have a next-to-nil chance of winning.
Coming into this game it was clear who was the favorite (Kobe Bryant had more fans in the Target Center than the actual Wolves tonight). The only real chance the Wolves had of even competing with the Lakers tonight was to play solid defense, make lots of shots and hope our starters would play well enough to fend off the former Champions.
Achieving only two out of those three didn’t cut it and thus another loss gets thrown onto the ole’ record.
The first half showed serious promise. Aside from Andrew Bynum, who’s seriously just a large, schoolyard bully with zero remorse for his physical play and violent post moves — he was just down-right mean tonight, especially to Anthony Randolph, — the Lakers just couldn’t make shots. Kobe was forcing anything and everything — typical — and Pau Gasol wasn’t too active on the offensive end. Whether the Lakers’ inefficiency and lull on offense was due in part to a stilfing team defense on our behalf — doubtful — or just a cold shooting night from their team standpoint, it left them struggling, praying for an answer.
Sure enough, as the NBA Gods bless our major market foes on a nightly to yearly basis, they did.
The Lakers emerged from the tunnel with some hope. The Wolves never gave up, though. It’s just that once Rambis had to pull the starters and reserves came in to the call of duty, the Lakers’ depth and talent just overpowered us. How is Lazar Hayward supposed to hang with Lamar Odom, who’s looking to have the best season of his career… Coming off the bench! But even when it was painfully noticeable that our resereves could not play to the level of the Lakers, Rambis refused to let his starters back in.
All through a brutal end to the third quarter into a big run in the start of the fourth, led by the Black Mamba himself, it just became a nasty sight. Defense started to fail, the offense grew stagnant behind Jonny Flynn’s control, even though he played decently, in my opinion. Even when the starters finally got back in, they couldn’t do anything with it. Kevin Love and Michael Beasley went a combined 8-28 and never found a real rhythm in the game’s flow; Everything that went right in the first half came to a halting stop in the second, thus allowing my Tweet to come true… Unfortunately, that is. And it wasn’t just the Wolves that changed, like I said, Kobe started firing from all cylinders — no surprise there — but this time he was making them, proving his ultimate status as one of the NBA’s elite. All game long Wes Johnson harrassed Kobe, not allowing him to pull off any of his Kobe-esque shimmy-shakes and turn-around fades. But you can only hold a future Hall-of-Famer out of one game for so long.
So despite one of the better first halves the Wolves have played this season, especially on the defensive end, it just wasn’t enough to override fate and beat a team like the Lakers.
One thing to take away from this game was the improved play of Anthony Randolph and, more importantly, Wes Johnson. Randolph received 14 minutes today, the most as a T-Wolf this year, and made significant progress with it. We saw his potential in the form of alley-oops and incredibly insane rebounds. The guy has serious skills, but has a long ways to go, especially if he wants to fit into this complex system — he needs to be more selective with his shot and understand his range shouldn’t go farther beyond 15-feet. But as for Wes, I mean, wow, what a hell of a game? Arguably his best game as a pro, Wes displayed that he too has the potential of being the guy we knew he could be when drafting him 4th overall this summer. We all knew the guy could shoot, that was a given. But now he’s discovering new, more versatile parts to his game. His athleticism and size are coming up huge on the defensive end. Even though he may not be the most instinctive defender such as Corey Brewer was, but he locked up Kobe most of the night, always remembering to keep a hand in his grill. His qualities helped him on the boards as well. I now notice him attack the rim and reaching for balls more often. He crashes the rim when the ball is thrown up and goes and gets it with raw ups. We could very well be seeing the demise of Kevin Love’s double-double streak shape before our eyes in the new rebounding monster that is Wes Johnson. That’s a complete bunch of bologna but you get the idea.
The Wolves head to Detroit tomorrow night to face a depleted and divided Pistons squad. Should be able to pick up a win after tomorrow night. So until then, you stay classy, Minnesota.