Kobe Bryant is on a mission, maybe even more than ever. The man who always has something to prove wasn’t really bothered with the mask on his face or the Minnesota Timberwolves’ feeble attempts of slowing him down, scoring 31 points as the Lakers cruised to a 104-85 victory.
In his first game since the All-Star game, which Bryant will highlight with a marker on his career resume as the game that turned him into the all-time leading scorer in AS history and the day Dwyane Wade made himself a new enemy out West, no matter what Bryant says, Bryant was same old, same old. Scoring 31 points, taking 23 shots (making 11 of them), nothing new.
The Lakers probably enjoyed the fact that Kevin Love didn’t play just as much. It was their 17th straight win over Minnesota, coming a lot easier than expected. Andre Bynum, who finished with yet another double double (13 points, 13 rebounds), summed it up shortly - No K. Love. It was that simple.
Improving to 21-14 on the season (4th in the West) and 15-2 at home, the Lakers seem to be on the verge of making a big deal, as the experts predict, but don’t know exactly who to get rid of and what to bring over. We all know they’ve got problems with their point guards. Derek Fisher is averaging 5.5 points per game while shooting below .400 from the field, while Steve Blake is at 6.8 per game, also below .400 from the field.
But the Lakers’ greatest strength during their repeat in 2009 and 2010 was their defense, depth and size. Bryant being amazing isn’t enough, as the 2005-2007 teams showed. They’ve already lost Lamar Odom, Metta World Peace looks like a D-League player on too many nights, while Bynum and Gasol are the only real trade cards the Lakers have.
Dwight Howard will be an improvement to each of them individually, but is it worth losing both of them for a player who might not sign an extension? Who probably won’t sign an extension? Is it worth taking the risk for a title shot? Bryant, who cares so much about getting that sixth ring probably thinks so. Don’t take that tirade against the owners too seriously. He’ll dump Pau Gasol in a second if he knew it promised him a sixth ring, just like MJ.
For the Wolves, there was nothing to learn from this night. Ricky Rubio was awful (1-8 from the field) and Derrick Williams + Michael Beasley combined for only 24 points, as the Timberwolves were dreaming of the next game, and a healthy Kevin Love. Michael Beasley is actually another option for the Lakers, although having him in a happening place didn’t exactly work so well during his Miami episode.
Still, anything is better than the former Ron Artest right now, averaging 5 points with 34.2% from the field. With these numbers, it’s a wonder the Lakers passed the 100 point mark at all, quite a rarity for them this season. With Kobe Bryant at this kind of form, even with a broken nose, post-concussion and stiff neck, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.