LOS ANGELES — So now we finally are reminded again what happens when Timberwolves forward Kevin Love plays against the Lakers.
They lose, of course, as they did with 97-92 defeat at Staples Center that was the Wolves’ 19th consecutive against the Lakers and kept Love 0-for against them during his four NBA seasons.
But it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying from the two-time All Star who returned Friday night after missing the last two games these two teams played.
One night after he clutched his left thumb in pain and needed post-game x-rays in Utah to show it was only sprained, Love played against the Lakers for the first time since late January at Target Center.
He delivered yet another 20/10 — 27 points, 15 rebounds — that still wasn’t nearly enough against a Los Angeles team that apparently isn’t reeling too much from the departure of veteran Derek Fisher.
The Lakers improved their league-best home record to 19-2 while the Wolves lost for the second straight night after they started this seven-game, 13-day trip that could define their season by winning at Phoenix on Monday.
With the loss, they slipped back below .500 – at 22-23 – and they now trail Denver by 2½ games in the chase for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. And Phoenix stands between them and the Nuggets for that final spot.
“We’ve got to play with more urgency,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “If you want to be in the playoff race, you’ve got to go out and play like you really want to stay in it. Sometimes if things don’t go their way or they don’t play as many minutes, guys just seem to start thinking about that. You can’t do that. If you want to stay in this, forget about the individual stuff and think about the team.”
The Wolves never led in this one, trailing by four after a quarter and then falling behind by 15 in the second quarter when their second unit for the second consecutive night couldn’t keep up. This time, reserves Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington, J.J. Barea and Anthony Tolliver and either Love or starting center Nikola Pekovic comprised that second unit while injured Michael Beasley’s scoring was missing from it for the second straight night.
Love and Pekovic combined for the inside muscle that allowed the Wolves to outrebound the Lakers and their big frontline of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol 55-47, including 18-11 on the offensive boards.
But once again, they had no answer for Kobe Bryant’s commanding 28-point night or a second unit that got 17 points from Matt Barnes. The Wolves’ bench scored just 19 points combined.
“We need other guys to step up,” Love said. “That second unit needs to bring it and find a way to make this work if we’re going to make a [playoff] push.”
The Wolves trailed by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and still were behind by 10 points with fewer than three minutes left in the game.
They pulled within six points three times, but each time the Lakers repelled them and they never got closer again than the five-point final margin created by Martell Webster’s three with 1.7 seconds left.
Love missed a game against the Lakers in Los Angeles 17 days earlier because he was feeling ill and the Wolves lost by 19 in one of their least competitive games of the season. He missed a rematch at Target Center a week earlier because he had back spasms on the same night teammate Ricky Rubio was lost for the season when he tore a knee ligament with just 16 seconds left while he tried to defend Bryant.
The Wolves are 1-3 since that night.
“We need to accept that and move on because he’s not coming back this season,” Love said. “Guys on the team need to step up, find a way for moving the ball and sharing the ball to be contagious. Guys can’t do it themselves. If we do that and come together, we can still make a playoff run.”
While the Wolves stood still at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, quashing a three-way deal with the Lakers and Portland in the final minutes before the clock ticked out, the Lakers made two moves intended to not only make them the most prominent team in the Southland, but also make them serious NBA title contenders once again.
They acquired former Wolves guard Ramon Sessions in a deal with Cleveland intended to address their point guard problems.
Then they shipped Fisher — their aging starting point guard, five-time NBA champion and clutch playoff scorer through the years – away to Houston basically to save them luxury-tax payments when the Wolves refused to take Fisher’s $3.4 million contract for next season so they could essentially swap Michael Beasley for Portland’s Jamal Crawford.
The latter deal apparently hit Lakers players hard, and Laker Nation waited with bated breath for Kobe Bryant’s first public words on the subject after the game.
"Very difficult," Bryant said afterward. "I’m not used to it. I've been with him pretty much my entire career, so it's very different for me. It's pretty weird."
Before Friday’s game, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked if the Lakers’ two Thursday trades would have any effect on the game, particularly emotionally.
“Let’s see…” Adelman said, pretending to pause to think. “They’ve still got Gasol, Bynum and Kobe. No, I don’t think it’s going to make any difference to them.”
He forgot to include Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace and Sessions, for crying out loud.
Seesions played 19-plus minutes and had seven points and five assists that delighted the home crowd that already loves him, but it was Bryant’s 28-point performance, of course, that tilted the evening decidedly toward the home side.
Bryant on Friday still wore that clear plastic mask he wore to protect his nose — broken during last month’s All-Star Game — on a Friday night noticeably lacking the usual array of Hollywood stars, unless you really want to count David Hasselhoff.
You might think after all these years that Bryant is oblivious to such things, but he wasn’t on Friday. After he made consecutive three-pointers, including a challenging one falling away in the right corner late in the third quarter, he stopped, adjusted that sweaty mask and preened for two supermodels sitting on the floor seats.
After the game, Adelman was asked how the Lakers have changed since Thursday’s trades.
“I have no idea because Sessions played a little,” Adelman said. “Like I said, they change all those other people, but those three big guys are the ones that are going to make them go. They obviously need people around them and frankly I don’t care how they change. We played them four times now and we didn’t have very good luck. They were pretty good before they made changes, I thought.”