No Love, no chance for Wolves

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 1, 2012 - 6:22 AM

The All-Star power forward missed the game because of the flu, while Kobe Bryant lit up the Wolves for 31 points.

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LOS ANGELES - Neither an ailing back, foot, elbow, shoulder, ankle, wrist nor mangled index finger has kept Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant from his appointed rounds through these many years, so it was far too much for the Timberwolves to expect that a broken nose and healing concussion would keep him from Wednesday's 104-85 victory over them at Staples Center.

So Bryant played on, strapping a plastic protective mask to his face while the Wolves unexpectedly forged ahead without Kevin Love, the nearest representative they have to a superstar.

Love declared after Tuesday's comeback victory over the Clippers that bruised ribs and a sore back sustained that night wouldn't keep him from returning to the same arena 24 hours later, the middle game in three-in-three nights heading out of All-Star break and into this lockout-shortened season's final 32 games.

Love's ribs and back apparently were fine, but his head and stomach weren't. He fell ill Wednesday and the decision was made just before game time to let him rest in the hope that he will be better by Thursday's game in Phoenix.

"Hopefully he'll be here tomorrow," Wolves forward Michael Beasley said. "We could have used him today."

 

Without Love, the Wolves trailed by 27 points in the fourth quarter, their largest deficit this season, and lost to the Lakers for the 17th consecutive time.

Without him, their 19-point defeat was the largest of the season, four more than a home loss to Houston last month. Last season, they lost by 20 points or more 10 times.

Bryant scored 24 of his 31 points in the first three quarters. He sat down to start the fourth quarter, then was brought back by coach Mike Brown six minutes later as the Wolves had slashed the Lakers' lead to a mere 19 points.

By then, Wolves coach Rick Adelman had sent little-used Anthony Randolph and Wayne Ellington into a game during which the Wolves could find none of the energy and efficiency they discovered in overpowering the Clippers during the fourth quarter the night before.

By the time the Wolves got to the fourth quarter, they were playing without Love and guard J.J. Barea, who left the game for good in the second quarter after straining his calf. He limped out of the arena afterward saying he didn't know how serious the injury is.

"They played last night, we didn't," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "They had their All Star out of the lineup, we didn't."

Adelman adjusted to Love's absence by promoting rookie Derrick Williams to the starting power forward spot one night after he delivered the best performance of his young career in his hometown no less by making all but one of 15 shots -- nine of 10 from the field, including all four three-pointers, and all five free throws -- he attempted.

The Lakers outscored the Wolves 26-11 to start Wednesday's game. When the Wolves pulled within six by halftime, the Lakers outscored them 9-0 to start the third quarter after Adelman adjusted his starting lineup by subbing Martell Webster for Luke Ridnour to make the backcourt bigger against a guy named Bryant.

"You can't say it's Kevin's fault," Williams said. "We didn't play to the level we're supposed to play at. We found out right before the game when we looked over and Kevin wasn't there. At that point, we all have to step up."

Williams fought foul trouble trying to defend Gasol all night. Together with Beasley, the two combined to make 11 of 21 shots after they went 20-for-25 Tuesday against the Clippers.

"We didn't hit shots all night," said Williams, whose team shot 39.3 percent Wednesday compared to 51.3 percent Tuesday. "We hit every single shot last night. We didn't hit them tonight. It could have been fatigue. Maybe a little bit tired, but at the same time, everyone else in the league is doing."

Maybe it had something to do with the Lakers' defense and with Bryant's presence, too.

Bryant delivered a 31-point, 8-assist, 7-rebound night that technically was in doubt until he passed another neurologist's test shortly before game time.

"Mask or no mask, he's the player he is," Gasol said.

Bryant finally removed that mask with fewer than three minutes left, after he played 34 minutes three days after Wade whacked him across the face during an All-Star Game, of all things.

"I was drinking my own sweat," Bryant said about playing while wearing the mask. "It was disgusting."

But he played on, citing no ill will held against Wade, his U.S. Olympic teammate, for causing him a bloody nose at the time and headaches and pressure at the base of his neck in the hours and days after Sunday's hit.

"Very simple: He didn't mean to do it, he's not that type of player," Bryant said. "He's a nicer guy than I am, to be honest. He's not the type who would intentionally do something like that."

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