Lineup Change Keeps Wolves Close, But Lakers Pull Away 106-101

Lineup Change Keeps Wolves Close, But Lakers Pull Away 106-101

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Down by 18 and needing a spark, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and his staff switched up their game plan. Trying a lineup they’ve rarely used together this season and a zone defense they’ve rarely practiced, Adelman put both on the floor hoping it would bring Minnesota back against a veteran Los Angeles Lakers squad.

And it nearly worked.

Minnesota immediately showed life, began getting stops against a Lakers team that was shooting 55 percent at halftime and, by the 6:04 mark of the fourth quarter, knotted the game 89-89. But L.A. went back to basics, picking between Kobe Bryant’s jumpers and Andrew Bynum’s powerful inside game and escaped Target Center with a 106-101 victory on Sunday night.

The Wolves led as late as the 3:19 mark when guard Martell Webster nailed a 3-pointer to give Minnesota the 94-93 edge, but on the Lakers’ next possession a Bynum dunk began an 8-3 run that put the game too far out of reach.

“We’ve got to learn we’ve got to play with that energy all the time,” Adelman said. “It took us until that stretch in the third and fourth that we started running and started attacking them. We did a lot of good things, we got a lot of fast-break points and second-chance points, but we couldn’t make shots.”

The Wolves (9-11) opened up the game shooting 37.5 percent from the floor in the first half, and Los Angeles’ combination of Bryant’s outside shooting and Bynum and Gasol forcing their way to the basket caused the game to quickly tilt in L.A.’s direction. The three had 84 of the Lakers' 106 points in the game, and they helped extend the Los Angeles (12-9) lead to 18 points midway through the third.

That’s when the Wolves made their move. Adelman said he switched into a zone defense to add help inside against the Lakers’ big men and forced more perimeter shots. Lineup wise, the team stuck with Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Ricky Rubio from the midway point in the third through the rest of the game.

Between the two changes, the Wolves began to show life. Forcing stops and getting points on fast breaks, Minnesota began chipping away. By the end of the third, a Rubio bank shot capped off a 19-6 run that cut the lead from 18 down to five at 79-74.

It didn’t stop there. Beasley took over early in the fourth, hitting back-to-back shots in the span of 20 seconds to cut the lead to 83-80. Two minutes later, Rubio—who was 1-for-6 from the field at the time—hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 89-89.

Twice the Wolves took the lead, once on a Beasley tip-in to make it 91-89 and another time on Webster’s 3-pointer at 94-93. The Wolves used 56 points in the paint, 32 second chance points and a rebounding advantage of 52-41 to keep themselves close despite shooting 38 percent from the floor on the night.

“They kicked our behinds on the glass,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “They had 24 offensive rebounds for the 32 second chance points. It would be interesting to go back and watch the tape to see how they kept beating us to the ball. Maybe we were tired, maybe we didn’t box out. I don’t know.”

Love led the team with 33 points and 13 rebounds for his league-leading 19th double-double of the season. Beasley had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Webster finished with 10 points and shot 2-of-6 from 3-point range. Rubio finished with five points and eight assists.

Nikola Pekovic again stood out during the first half with 13 points and nine rebounds before picking up his fourth personal foul, limiting his availability on the court.

Adelman said Pekovic’s foul trouble coupled with Darko Milicic missing the game due to illness posed problems containing Bynum and Gasol, who finished with 21 and 28 points, respectively.

“We were afraid of that,” Adelman said. “They were pretty much having their way; they had places on the court where they could take advantage of it. That’s why we went to the zone to try and change things up.”

Bryant finished with 35 points and 14 rebounds, including five 5-for-9 from 3-point range.

Adelman said even with the slow start and the team’s shooting percentage, Minnesota still took the game down to the final minutes against a perennial power. Beasley said the Wolves need to find a way to start quicker and not fall so far behind early in games.

“We’ve got to take it upon ourselves; we’re all professionals,” Beasley said. “That should be motivation enough. We have the ability.”

Adelman said the game was within reach.

“The guys played really hard,” he said. “They really came in and played in the fourth quarter, but we just didn’t make the shots that they did.”

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