MINNEAPOLIS – So this is what the Lakers could look like without World Peace.
With Metta World Peace remaining sidelined for at least the next six weeks after having surgery today to treat a lateral meniscus tear, the Lakers’ 120-117 victory Wednesday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center featured various snapshots on what their evolving identity without their dependable defender.
Kobe Bryant both refound his scoring stroke (31 points on 12 of 21 shooting) and provided more facilitating en route to seven assists and more pick-and-roll plays.
Dwight Howard benefited from such plays, posting 25 points and 16 rebounds while enhancing his large defensive role with five steals and five blocks.
Pau Gasol benefited from such a dynamic, posting 17 points and ninerebounds partly because of improved conditioning in his third game since sitting the previous 20 because of a right foot injury.
After nursing a sprained right wrist for the past week, Although he hobbled over to the bench midway through the fourth quarter nursing his sprained right wrist, Antawn Jamison proved managed to play through it enough to finish with 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
Add it all up, and the Lakers (37-35) snapped their three-game losing steak.
First, a reality check.
The Lakers’ win against Minnesota marked their 22nd win against the Western Conference’s worst team, the NBA’s longest active winning streak. Such an element allowed the Lakers to absorb some otherwise costly miscues.
Minnesota fans loudly booed over officials didn’t call a foul on Bryant when Ricky Rubio attempted a potential game-tying three-pointer at halfcourt before time expired. The Lakers nearly lost a double-digit lead late in the game after the Hack a Dwight strategy contributed to his 7 of 17 mark from the free throw line. The Lakers committed 21 turnovers. They collected 27 fouls.
Also consider the Timberwolves don’t have former UCLA product Kevin Love (right hand surgery). The Lakers’ team defense didn’t improve after allowing double-digit production from Nikola Perkovic (19 points), Dante Cunningham (18 points), Derrick Williams (15 points), J.J. Barea (14), Andrei Kirilenko (11) and Luke Ridnour (11).
Such an effort could’ve resulted in another blown double-digit lead against a sub. 500 team. Instead, the Lakers prevented such mistakes from boiling over.
Howard played limited first-half minutes after collecting his third foul with 1:40 left in the second quarter. Moments after looking like he’d punch the protective foam behind the basket, Howard hugged it. He still kept a positive mindset in the game, too.
Bryant hardly did much in elevating his defense. He still jawed at refs after missed calls. Following one turnover off his inbounds pass, Bryant stood in the same position as Minnesota converted on the other end. But Bryant offset that by scoring 16 third quarter points on 7 of 9 shooting. Bryant also iced the game after making a 22-foot dagger and a pair of free throws in the final minute.
The Lakers sorely missed World Peace’s energy and defense. But the Lakers didn’t change completely. With how the game played out, the Lakers would walk away with an embarrassing loss to a bad team or squeak out an ugly win.
Luckily for the Lakers’ playoff fortunes, the latter scenario happened.