Feb. 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) in the second half of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Staples Center. Lakers won 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
A masked Kobe Bryant, playing with a broken nose and a concussion, scores 31 in leading the Lakers over the Timberwolves.
Same arena. Same tip time. Same Minnesota Timberwolves team (mostly). Different opponent. Very different result.
One night after beating the Clippers in Staples Center by making 12 consecutive field goals to start the fourth quarter and shooting over 50 percent for the game, the Minnesota Timberwolves shot under 40 percent for the game and got trounced by the L.A. Lakers in the same building. Of course, the very fact that the Wolves were playing on consecutive nights (and they have another game Thursday night as well) may have had something to do with it. But some nights you have it, and some nights you don't. Tuesday night they had it. Wednesday night? Not so much. The Lakers won handily, 104-85.
One thing the Wolves didn't have was All-Star and leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love, who sat out the game with flu-like symptoms.
On the other hand, the Lakers did have Kobe Bryant, though that was not certain until an hour before game time. Bryant suffered a broken nose and a mild concussion when he was fouled hard by Dwyane Wade during the All-Star Game on Sunday. There was never any question as to whether or not Kobe wanted to play -- the only issue was whether he would be ALLOWED to play, given the serious health risks associated with concussions. But he was given the green light and took the floor wearing a clear Phantom of the Opera mask to protect his nose.
Perhaps, like Rip Hamilton, Kobe will decide to keep the mask -- he didn't play too badly in it. He finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 33 minutes. He was joined in double figures by Pau Gasol (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting) and Andrew Bynum (13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 13 rebounds). As a team the Lakers shot 49 percent. Los Angeles led by just six at halftime, but used a 33-15 third-quarter advantage to bust the game open.
For the Timberwolves, it was a rare blowout loss. Minnesota has been competitive in almost every game it had played this season, and the 19-point loss was its worst of the campaign. The game marked the third time the Timberwolves have been without Love, who was suspended for two games in February for stomping on Luis Scola of the Rockets. The Wolves are now 1-2 without their leading scorer.
Minnesota was led by Michael Beasley and Martell Webster, who each had 14 points off the bench. Rookie point guard Ricky Rubio struggled again, shooting 1-for-8 for the second consecutive game in L.A. Rookie Derrick Williams, who started at power forward in place of Love, got into foul trouble in the third quarter and was limited to 10 points in 28 minutes a night after scoring a career-high 27 against the Clippers.
Though the game wasn't particularly compelling, there were plenty of intriguing subplots. Both Williams and Beasley have been linked to the Lakers in recent trade rumors. If they want to find themselves in purple and gold, they'd better hope that Mitch Kupchak saw Tuesday night's game as well.
With the win, the Lakers move to 21-14. They are tied for the league's second-best home record at 15-2 and are now within a half game of the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead. The Timberwolves drop back to .500, 18-18 overall, 8-8 on the road.