In a bit of foreshadowing, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni hours earlier questioned the team’s mental toughness. He gushed about Kevin Martin’s outside shooting, Kevin Love’s versatility and Ricky Rubio’s quickness. D’Antoni then laughed off the Lakers’ previous 22-game winning streak against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” D’Antoni said.
He’s sure right on that one. Or all of them. The Lakers proved D’Antoni a prophet on all of his concerns, laying down a laughable 113-90 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center. Martin (27 points) bombed away with jumpers (11 of 23) and three pointers (three of five). Love (25 points) did the same (8 of 17, 4 of 9 from outside), while also throwing full-court outlet passes. Rubio (12 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) set up all of Minnesota’s theatrical plays, involving pinpoint passes, open jumpers and continuous weaving through the Lakers’ non-existent defense.
Add it all up.
Minnesota dropped a franchise record 47 points in the first quarter. Love’s 18 first-quarter points nearly totaled the Lakers’ total output (23). Love and Martin made 12 of their first 14 shots, and that still didn’t prompt the Lakers to take them seriously enough to put a body on them. This all gave the 18,997 fans at Staples Center too many reasons to boo before even 1/4 of the game was completed.
“Forty seven points in one quarter is outrageous,” Lakers center Pau Gasol said. “We have to put more pressure. We have to force them into taking tougher shots. They made some tough ones. But once they got going, we have to figure out how to take some guys out of the game.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni’s left conceding uncertainty on what he can do to turn around the Lakers’ 3-5 slide.
“It’s my job to figure it out,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll do that. Hopefully it’ll be quicker than last year. We’ll figure it out. These guys won’t quit. They’re good guys and we just have to get the right combos out on the floor. I’m not doing that all the time.”
Those player combinations might change again soon.
Steve Nash will see a back specialist Monday after sitting out the entire second half because of persisting pain in his back, left hamstring and nerves along his surgically repaired left leg. Hours after D’Antoni suggested Shawne Williams will provide nothing more than cheerleading off the bench, he posted eight points on 3 of 7 shooting in 25 minutes.
In a sign that promising signs during training camp and the first week of the season prove fleeting, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry shot a combined 3 of 18 from the field. In a sign that he’s not yet equipped for a larger role, Gasol’s 11-point effort on 5 of 12 shooting marked the fifth consecutive game he shot below 50 percent. In a sign that the Lakers haven’t compensated on defense with the offseason departures of Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, the Lakers’ loss to Minnesota marked the fifth time in eight games they conceded more than 100 points.
“Sometimes we don’t have enough speed on the floor,” D’Antoni said. “Tonight that hurt us. Sometimes you get away with it. But we have to find a way to get more speed.”
That only worked for a short time.
Steve Blake posted a season-high 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting and eight assists. Jodie Meeks came off the bench and scored 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting. Together, they played the entire third quarter and forged a comeback that cut the Timberwolves’ 29-point lead by scoring 20 of the Lakers’ 28 third-quarter points.
“We just had to scrap,” Blake said. “Once you get down like that, you have to fight. We had stretches where we did that. That’s promising, but we can’t dig a hole like that.”
And as a result, D’Antoni sat both Blake and Meeks until the 6:33 mark of the fourth quarter.
“Unless you want to see him vomit all over the floor and die, he can’t play the whole day,” D’Antoni quipped about Blake. “I got to get Jodie and Steve Blake a rest. There’s no way they can go [the whole game]. If we had any chance to finish the game off with those guys, they needed to rest for two or three minutes.”
Once they returned though, the Lakers trailed 104-80. Never have the Lakers sunk so low since March 6, 2007, the last time they lost to Minnesota featuring a point guard, much to Kobe Bryant’s chagrin, that went by the name of Smush Parker.
“We wasted so much energy trying to come back,” Meeks said. “We kept fighting. Give the team credit for still fighting. But we couldn’t get over the hump. Chalk it up to a bad loss and move on.”
Nice words. But as the Lakers have shown so far this season, they haven’t always backed those words up with actions.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org