Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin

On one of the few occasions in which Kobe Bryant shoots and doesn’t miss more than he makes while not keeping Jeremy Lin out of the loop and the Los Angeles Lakers still lose 120-119 to the Minnesota Timberwolves because playing defense is just as important as putting points on the board.

The Lakers led for most of the game but the Timberwolves got a surge of energy and speed late in the third quarter that carried over into the fourth. Led by rookie Zach LaVine with 28 points in 26 minutes off the bench while getting help from Mo Williams scoring 25 points and Thaddeus Young adding 22 points, the Lakers’ inability to do anything more than sometimes gamble on passing lanes as a team defensively cost them too much.

You might notice that Jeremy Lin, the Lakers point guard, wasn’t too difficult to score against. Lin isn’t going to be an All-Defensive member ever, and has his flaws when playing without the ball. But something the Lakers are doing badly so far this season is playing as a team on both ends of the floor. Lin is excellent at choosing moments to steal from players, but doesn’t have his back covered if it misfires, or if a player gets the better of him. Both he and Bryant combined to steal the ball nine times, and yet the Lakers defense failed them again and again when they needed help.

Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points but missed the potential game winner, taking a comfortable 3-pointer but went up a bit awkwardly to take it. Statistically, Bryant is one of the worst clutch shooters in NBA history, but the sheer volume of shots he takes in the fourth quarter helps mask his true efficiency in these moments. He was 10-of-18 from the field and unlike other performances, his asking for the ball didn’t suffocate the rest of his teammates.

The big problem for the Lakers was half court offense. Early on, when Lin and Bryant did an excellent job of jumping into passing lanes and putting their hands on the dribbler, the Lakers were zooming forward. Lin finished with 18 points and 11 assists in one of his best games early this season. But when the game stands around he sees less of the ball and is often forced into bad shots, like his 2-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Generally, it feels like the offense is coming together over the last week or two, with some bumps in the road. It’s a clearer sense of what everyone should do, helped by having Nick Young coming off the bench to wreck some havoc. In some situations it works. But the defense keeps failing this team, that’s probably a bit better than its 3-13 record, which includes going 1-8 at home against a Lakers fanbase that has never gotten used to being behind a losing team.

There’s hope for the Lakers if they come together as a team. The Grizzlies are on top of the West because they’re great as a group. The same goes for the Raptors a bit North and East of everyone else. The Lakers are still a bunch of individuals getting better at understanding each other offensively, yet failing at every parameter when it comes to defending as a unit. That is on the head coach, at least in some way. He has an excellent back court with Lin and Bryant who have enough good moments together, or at least more than before, to warrant a better record than they do right now.

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