Darko Milicic was the best player in a Wolves uniform tonight, while Kevin Love was the worst player in any uniform tonight - including the security guards, the concession stand workers and the parking lot attendants.
Los Angeles Lakers 112 - Minnesota Timberwolves 95
"I like what we did on both ends of the court. Obviously, it was not the outcome we wanted. We stuck to the game plan, got the shots we wanted, we just couldn't make them." - Kurt Rambis
In front of a packed house that was1/2 full of Wolves' fans, 1/5 full of true Laker fans and 4/5s full of bandwagon Laker fans, the defending champs showed why they are the favorites again this year. The Wolves, as Rambis said, did not play that poorly. Their effort was certainly better than games against Memphis, Orlando and Miami at the beginning of the year. We simply caught the best team in the league on a good night.
(Question: What must life be like as a bandwagon Laker fan? At election time, do they just vote for whoever happens to be ahead in the polls? Do they go to restaurants and always ask to order the most popular item on the menu? Are these the people responsible for the Black Eyed Peas continued success despite absolutely zero musical talent? I feel like I need to know these things.)
Matt Barnes became only the 3rd person in the last 25 years to have have 20-5-5 while shooting 100% from the field (Charles Barkley did it in 1985 and Gary Payton did it in 1999). When the Lakers are getting contributions like that, any team is going to be hard pressed to beat the Lakers.
Especially when that team has one of their best two players decides not to show up for the game. Let's break down the rest of what happened below the fold:
Darko's Career Night
Perhaps the saddest part about tonight's loss was the fact that Darko Milicic's career night essentially goes wasted. Darko had career highs in points (23), rebounds (16) and blocks (6). It was thrilling to see the Serbian center shut down Pau Gasol all game long and prompted my dad to inadvertently knock over the drink of the fan next to him after one of Darko's blocks in the first quarter.
Darko was the best player tonight for the home team, and if he starts to bring performances like that on a regular basis, will outgrow his label as a "bust" and as a "bad contract". If anything, Darko showed that when properly motivated and locked in, he has the talent to match up with one of the best big men in the NBA.
Given that some people - as recent as last week - were screaming for Darko's head, this is one of the bright spots in tonight's loss. Rambis said in his press conference that he did not think Darko came into the season in basketball shape, but now that his conditioning is improved, he is becoming more aggressive and "starting to play how we hoped."
The good news is that Nenad Krstic and Cole Aldrich aren't exactly Pau Gasol, giving Darko a great opportunity to have another solid performance Monday night. The bad news is that until Nikola Pekovic returns, we're stuck with Kosta Koufos when Darko goes to the bench, and Kosta Koufos is making Ryan Hollins look like Dwight Howard.
With about 5 minutes left to go in the third quarter, Matt Barnes had the ball, started to make a move to the basket, made contact with Anthony Tolliver and Tolliver fell back, drawing the offensive foul. Barnes felt that Tolliver had flopped and let him know so by jawing at Tolliver for the next several seconds as they ran back down the floor. He was talking to Tolliver so much that Michael Beasley had to step in to stand up for his teammate.
Maybe teams should be more careful about angering Matt Barnes.
About a minute later, Matt Barnes hit his second three pointer of the game and he would go on to make three more shots from downtown (5-of-5 from three) and score 15 of his 24 total points following the Tolliver exchange.
For all of the talk about LeBron, Bosh and Stoudemire switching teams, Matt Barnes may quietly be the best free agent signing of the offseason. He gives the Lakers another edge coming off of the bench and when he's on like he was tonight, the Lakers will be tough for even the Celtics and Magic to stop.
For the 7th straight game, Michael Beasley had 25+ points (he also chipped in 10 rebounds) for the Timberwolves. In the same way that hot rookie pitchers sometimes struggle against teams the second time they play them - because the other team knows their stuff now - teams are beginning to game plan for Michael Beasley. The Lakers brought double teams to Beasley on several occasions tonight because they were confident that the Wolves had no other options to beat them.
Wesley Johnson and Corey Brewer were a combined 3-of-14 from the floor tonight (1-of-7 from downtown), which is a stat that has to change if the Wolves want any chance of competing with the top teams. Given Love's struggles (which we'll get to in a minute), Beasley is going to face more and more double teams if Wolves' shooters cannot make other teams pay for doing so.
Wes has one of the best shooting forms I've seen on this team in a while, and I'm confident that he'll start knocking down jumpers (I have a little less faith in Brewer), but for now, this is an area of concern for Minnesota.
"Kevin couldn't find the rhythm tonight. It happens." - Kurt Rambis
That's a polite way to put it, Kurt. Kevin Love's game tonight was ugly. It may have been the worst performance by a Wolf this season - and given some of the losses we've had this year, that's saying something. The box score barely covers it. Sure, he missed all 7 attempts from the floor. And he had a game low -27 (barely edging out Corey Brewer's -25).
But to watch Love play out there, you would've thought that he had found Michael Beasley's old stash of marijuana about a half an hour before the game. He had almost zero energy and his normal hustle was no where to be found. Kurt Rambis made the excuse that Lamar Odom is a bad matchup for Love, but that was not the reason Love played so badly tonight.
It was not Odom making tough shots. It was not just Odom's quickness and length. Love, on several occasions, lost his man entirely and let Odom beat him on more than a couple of backdoor cuts. He was not boxing out the way he normally does and even rookie Derrick Caracter was outworking him on the boards.
If Kevin Love wants to be considered an All-Star and a franchise building block, he cannot have games like this. This wasn't Love having a bad shooting night or simply losing out to a bad matchup. That could've been excused. This was the Wolves' best or second best player not showing up for one of the biggest games of the season. That's inexcusable and Rambis needs to deliver that message loud and clear before Monday's game with the Thunder.
There were some positives to take from this game. There was one resounding negative. At the end of the day, however, this was a young team getting a lesson from one of the best teams in the league on how to play great basketball.
The Wolves showed a new intro video at the beginning of the game that declared that the Wolves "are back". They're getting close, but we can't declare that they are truly back until they start to compete with the best teams in the league, not just beat (or almost beat) the worst teams.
I have faith that this team will learn from this, and by March 1st (the next time the Lakers come to town), this will be a much better Timberwolves' squad.
(Author's note: Special thanks to Lauren Lang of the Timberwolves and SnP for providing two free tickets and access to the post game press conference with Coach Rambis. It is much appreciated.)
(Editor's note: SNP here to remind you that the Wolves on-line outreach page can be found by clicking here. They are really doing a good job of trying to reach out to the on-line community, which just happens to be a fairly large chunk of the remaining die-hard fan base. Check it out.)