The Los Angeles Lakers won against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night and snapped their three-game losing streak. Kobe Bryant played a patient and balanced game to keep his teammates involved and helped provide the Lakers a healthy cushion for most of the night.
Late in the game, however, the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy allowed the Timberwolves to creep within reach and cut the game into a one-possession affair with about a minute remaining. Then, as would be expected, Bryant came to the rescue with a key jumper to make it a 5-point advantage for the visitors.
The Lakers would take the game down to the wire and win it in controversial fashion with the Timberwolves fans and players screaming for a foul at the final buzzer.
Still, a win is a win. And the Lakers needed that in a bad way.
They may have crumbled at the end, but they outplayed the Timberwolves for most of the night and rightfully walked away victors.
Prior to tipoff, the Lakers received word that Metta World Peace would be out for at least six weeks. In response, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol stepped up and played an efficient game throughout. The Lakers’ twin towers combined for 17-25 from the field and pulled down 25 rebounds.
Despite battling foul trouble the entire night, Howard managed five blocks and five steals, highlighting his active energy on the defensive side of the ball. Although Howard was abysmal at the free throw line late in the game, he finished the night with 25 points on 9-13 from the field.
The Lakers should have won the game comfortably, but 21 Lakers turnovers kept the Timberwolves alive until Ricky Rubio’s last second three-point attempt fell short.
Only, it wasn’t that simple.
Bryant and Howard both fouled Rubio on the game-tying attempt, and the Spaniard should have been shooting three free throws.
The whistle was swallowed, and the Lakers won.
"I didn’t see it," coach Mike D’Antoni smiled after the game.
A win is a win, and D’Antoni and the Lakers will take it any way they can get it.
Beyond the late-game lack of execution and sloppy turnovers, the Lakers actually saw the Gasol and Howard combo work effectively. Also, apart from a third quarter flurry, they didn’t constantly look to Bryant to bail them out and carry the offensive load. Instead, they looked to Howard inside until the "Hack-a-Howard" successfully stagnated the offense.
Wednesday’s win was a big step forward into reintegrating Gasol into the Lakers lineup. On Thursday, the Lakers look to take another step forward with hopes to sweep their first back-to-back of the season at Milwaukee.