Lakers star Kobe Bryant headed to the basket against the Wolves’ Wayne Ellington. Bryant far outplayed the Wolves’ combination at shooting guard. ](MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE( (cq - program)Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers Kobe Bryant headed to the basket past the defense of Wolves Wayne Ellington (22). ](MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE( (cq - program)

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Kobe further exposes Wolves' need for shooting guard

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 30, 2012 - 12:03 PM

I went into the Lakers locker room searching for a wise take on the Timberwolves from Kobe Bryant.

Wisdom was dispensed, instead, by someone named Metta World Peace.

"Kevin Love is playing great," Mr. Peace said. "Michael Beasley's playing good."

Mr. Peace shrugged, and a confused expression formed on his face. "They started two point guards," Mr. Peace said. "I don't know how that really works. I don't know. ... I think that one guy was 100 pounds, 150 pounds, and he's guarding me. I don't know. That's so crazy, I don't understand."

Wolves fans probably will find a 106-101 loss to the Lakers comforting. The Lakers have beaten the Wolves 16 times in a row. Those accustomed to The Rambis Years may consider this progress.

They shouldn't. The Lakers entered the game 1-7 on the road. They lost a night earlier in Milwaukee. The Wolves outrebounded them 52-41, took 25 more shots and took the lead with five minutes left.

Ignore the nameplates in the locker room, and this is a game the Wolves should have won. Mr. MWP identified the reason the Lakers won instead: the position of shooting guard.

The Lakers have the best in basketball. Kobe Bryant scored 35 points, with 14 rebounds and two assists, and scored every time his team needed him to.

The Wolves feature such a void at shooting guard that Rick Adelman spends every game looking for one guy who can make a couple of shots.

Sunday night, he again started Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour, two pure point guards, together. Either could have been the 100-pound gentleman to whom Mr. Peace was referring.

Wes Johnson, the shooting guard who can't shoot, started at small forward and made just two of his six shots, and none from outside. Wayne Ellington, a shooting guard who can actually, sometimes, shoot, went 0-for-4 in 10 minutes. He's a smart but limited player who belongs on the team but not in the starting lineup.

With Johnson and Ellington making zero jump shots, Adelman turned to Martell Webster, recently recovered from back surgery. Webster made four of 15 shots.

That was the difference in the game: Bryant, the Lakers shooting guard, made 14 of his 29 shots, including five three-pointers. Wolves shooting guards made six of 25 shots and two three-pointers.

The Wolves shot 38.5 percent. The Lakers shot 50.6 percent, and exposed the Wolves' biggest problem.

Adelman can mix and match at small forward, going small with Webster or big with Michael Beasley or Derrick Williams. Adelman, like most NBA coaches, lacks a starting-quality center, but Nikola Pekovic has provided good production over his past five games and is a much better option than Darko Milicic.

Adelman can't fake it at shooting guard. Either a guy makes his shots, or he doesn't. Either he scores easy baskets and forces defenses to spread themselves thin, or he's a liability.

Webster looks rusty. With Johnson looking like a bust and Elllington limited athletically, Webster will probably get a chance to prove he can handle the position.

Sunday, Love was brilliant again, putting together 33 points, 13 rebounds and two assists while attempting to defend the Lakers' huge front line. Rubio missed 11 of his 13 shots and yet still dictated the flow of the game in the second half, when the Wolves went on a 19-6 run.

Adelman is getting the most he can from this roster. Other than Rubio improving his outside shot, improvement for this 9-11 team is going to have to come at shooting guard.

Asked about the Wolves' future, Bryant, bundled under a ski cap and massive scarf, said: "It's very bright. They just need to make a couple of tweaks here and there, and need to grow with the players they have, which is very important.

"They have a good core of young players. If they can grow with that group and establish an identity, they're going to be a very dangerous team pretty quickly."

They're one good shooting guard away. They have to hope that shooting guard is Webster.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •

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