Coach Phil Jackson made his last appearance in Minnesota as Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers visited the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight.
Wes Johnson was looking forward to his matchup tonight against his idol Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson had been averaging 19.5 points in the last two games and had a great overall game against the Warriors on Sunday with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Johnson’s aggressive play of late on both offense and defense has shown why the Wolves selected him fourth overall in last year’s NBA Draft. With the recent trade of SG Corey Brewer, Johnson has taken full advantage of his extensive minutes as the starting shooting guard.
Johnson continued his hot streak scoring seven of the Wolves first nine points of the game, while holding Kobe to 0-4 shooting early in the first quarter. It was not much better for the rest of the Lakers either. The Wolves held the Lakers to 5-22 shooting (22%) and led 21-18 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Wolves reserves – Johnny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Lazar Hayward, Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Randolph – helped sustain the small lead for the Wolves. With the hustle of Tolliver and the solid defense of Randolph against Lakers Andrew Bynum, the Wolves flustered the Lakers into six turnovers in the quarter. However, the Lakers were still able to keep the game close – outscoring the Wolves 20-4 on second chance points. The Lakers shooting began to heat up as well after crafty veteran Derek Fisher hit a pair of wide open jumpers from Bryant. Johnson’s three-pointer with a minute to go in the half gave the Wolves a 45-40 going into the half. Johnson led the Wolves in scoring with 12 points and held Bryant to 2-8 shooting and 4 points.
The Lakers opened the second half on a 9-2 run to take a 49-47 lead. Kobe started to heat up after a slow first half – showing Johnson and the Wolves why he is one of the best players on the planet, by scoring twelve points in the quarter. The Lakers scored on their last 7 of 8 possessions to take a 65-61 lead into the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Lakers continued to extend their lead as the Wolves bench struggled with bad shot selection and costly turnovers. The combination of the Wolves’ youth and inexperience and the Championship tested Lakers proved its worth tonight as the Lakers rolled to a 90-79 victory. Johnson led the Wolves with 20 points and 8 rebounds. Kevin Love extended his double-double streak to 46 consecutive games with 13 points and 11 rebounds but was held in check by the Lakers big men trio of Bynum, Gasol and Odom. Bryant led the Lakers with 24 points.
In order for the Wolves to compete in the next few years, the front office is going to need to find some veterans to help these young Wolves develop. During the 1996-97 season, veterans Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter had a tremendous influence on young stars Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. Free agent veterans such as Raja Bell, Kurt Thomas or Grant Hill could do the same wonders for Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson next year as well.
And as proven tonight, having a superstar like Kobe Bryant on your team would definitely help too.
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Written by Phil Aguila