Lakers 111, Timberwolves 94

There were a couple of jokes made after Wednesday’s game about Kevin Garnett immediately demanding a trade after the Timberwolves’ implosion. A couple of jokes also were made about the Lakers showcasing the package of Vladimir Radmanovic, Maurice Evans and Andrew Bynum they would offer Minnesota for Garnett.

On the serious side, that was an inspirational win for the Lakers, who won’t play another set of back-to-back games on this long road trip. It had special meaning for Evans, who is close friends with Garnett from the rookie season he played with the Timberwolves.

“It was a great feeling because for me, I played here and Kevin Garnett’s one of my best friends in the league and all that good stuff,” Evans said. “It’s always great to beat a great friend and to play a good game. We needed this game. We’re in the middle of a road trip, without Lamar (Odom), shorthanded. We needed a win and we got it.”

Evans finished with 15 points and hit 7 of 9 shots in 21 minutes. He also got some encouragement from Lakers coach Phil Jackson in the second half.

“At the end of the third, I thought Maurice was a little bit tentative with the basketball,” Jackson said. “I said, `Don’t just stand there with the ball looking to make a pass in our offense.’ You can active it by driving, which he did. He got going in the second half, started taking it to the hoop.”

For what it’s worth, Garnett’s postgame quotes made it sound as if he’s done a lot of scouting and reading about the Lakers.

“Me, just being a student of the game,” Garnett said, “I’ve been reading that some of their last three games, Phil Jackson was getting mad at them because they were shooting a lot of 3s.”

Garnett was asked if he was surprised the Lakers made a run with Bryant out. He clearly saw some tape from the second quarter of Tuesday’s game at Chicago, when the bench players helped build a lead.

“No,” Garnett said, “because they did the same thing in Chicago. When Kobe is in there he takes the majority of the shots. He tries to get the ball moving, but at the end of the day, he takes the bulk of the shots. He makes a lot of things happen with those shots. It’s easy to guard a team when there’s one guy and you have to focus on him and keep everybody under control.

“When you have four guys who can shoot the 3; Bynum played well, he was agressive and active in the middle. You have four shooters out there, two point guards in the game. They’re scrappy, it’s a good mix. You have to find a way to divert that and get them to do different things. Get them to go to the basket knowing they like to shoot 3s. It’s hard to play a team that moves the ball.”

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A couple of key stats: The seven points Minnesota scored in the fourth quarter was a franchise low. The Lakers had 11 assists in the fourth quarter. Bryant’s 30 minutes would have been a season-low if not for the game against Indiana that he had to leave early with a sprained ankle.

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Brian Cook started in place of Radmanovic and finished with 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting in 28 minutes. It was a disappointing game for Kwame Brown, who started out by missing several gimmes around the basket. Brown had six points and four rebounds but Jackson benched him in the third quarter.

The Lakers’ bench players also had something to prove after their fourth-quarter play Tuesday. The Bulls exposed them on the pick-and-roll as Michael Sweetney scored eight points and his team never looked back. Here’s another number for you: The Lakers outscored Minnesota 48-21 when Bryant was on the bench.

You’ve got to think Jackson wishes he could save some of those points for other games this season.

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The Lakers played a game here against the Timberwolves in the 2004-05 season that was a little eerie in its similarity to Wednesday’s game. They came back from nine points down in the fourth quarter to win with neither Bryant nor Lamar Odom on the floor. Bryant sat for more than 7 1/2 minutes in the fourth.

The unit on the floor in that game was Caron Butler, Brian Cook, Jumaine Jones, Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins. There were three starters in that group as opposed to none Wednesday. The fourth quarter score, I’m pretty sure, also wasn’t 34-7. Maybe it’s the cold air here or something.

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After covering a couple of (near) 3-hour games in the last week, it was nice to see Wednesday’s game check it at 2 hours, 4 minutes. On to New York City tomorrow.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS–As the fourth-quarter comeback moved from the realm of inspiring to staggering Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton and the rest of the Lakers starters did the only thing they could.

They popped out of their seats like pistons to cheer for a unit of Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Maurice Evans, Vladimir Radmanovic and Andrew Bynum, who dealt the Minnesota Timberwolves a shocking loss.

Having spotted the Timberwolves 87 points on 61.7 percent shooting and a 10-point lead through three quarters, the Lakers gave up just seven points the rest of the way and scored 34 of their own to take a 111-94 victory.

They won with Kobe Bryant scoring 24 points and playing 30 minutes, a far cry from his 54- and 47-minute marathons in recent games. Bryant sat until the 3:25 mark of the fourth quarter, when he returned with the Lakers leading by 10.

“We had a good time, Bryant said. “I was sitting next to Luke and he and I were just enjoying it tremendously. The more time you get to sit on the bench, the better.

“I was especially happy for them because it gives them confidence, to perform like this on the road. It just builds confidence for later in the season. We were enjoying it.

The Lakers second five combined to score 51 points with every player contributing. Radmanovic (17 points) and Evans (15) took care of the scoring while Farmar totaled four points, seven assists and no turnovers.

Vujacic broke out of a season-long slump, knocking down two big 3-pointers, and scored eight points. And Bynum played the last 19:21 of the game, finishing with seven points, nine rebounds and matching a career-high with four blocks.

It was enough for the Lakers to rebound after consecutive losses and turn conventional wisdom on its head. One of coach Phil Jacksons biggest beliefs is that bench players come together better at home than on the road.

“Its one of those games, Jackson said, “where you look at each other and say, `Go figure as a coaching staff.

The reserves also built an eight-point lead in the second quarter. Jackson challenged the group in the pregame meeting, saying, “Were going to have to have a bench that produces tonight if were going to win this ballgame.

The Lakers went down by 12 points on the first possession of the fourth quarter, then roared back with stop after stop on the defensive end. Minnesota made just 2 of 19 shots in the fourth and committed five turnovers.

Evans helped force a couple of turnovers and Bynum came up with a big block of Randy Foye in the lane. They tied the game at 91-91 with 7:49 left on a play that told the story of just how well the unit was clicking.

Vujacic drove baseline against Marko Jaric before firing a pass to Farmar in the corner. Farmar then passed the ball on to Evans beyond the 3-point arc. Evans faked a shot, took a dribble in and drilled a 21-footer.

“We just moved the ball, Vujacic said, “and we used every extra pass that we could use and we just have to carry on and do that every game in the next four games on the road.

Walton added: “The first unit, if we watch tape, we can probably learn a little bit from the way theyre playing right now.

They took the lead for good the next time down court as Farmar lobbed a pass to Bynum for a layup. Minnesota coach Dwane Casey brought back Kevin Garnett and Mike James; Jackson opted to ride the momentum of his reserves.

It was a test for Bynum, in particular. Jackson has talked about Bynum fatiguing after six- or seven-minute stretches. But he stuck with Bynum for nearly the entire second half after deciding Kwame Brown was not playing hard.

Bynum blocked three shots in the fourth quarter, held his own against Garnett, pulled down five rebounds, ran the floor for a fastbreak dunk and found Evans cutting for a basket that put the Lakers ahead 100-91.

“When you get like that, Jackson said, “sometimes youre never tired.

Vujacic, meanwhile, got the call as the first guard off the bench. He came into Wednesday shooting just 32.8 percent for the season but went 3 of 4 from the field and 2 of 3 from the 3-point arc.

“I think that every player has one blackout period in his year, Vujacic said. “Im glad thats hopefully behind me. Id like everybody to know it wasnt great, but now Im going to do everything thats going to be better.