LOS ANGELES – For one Timberwolves said good riddance to one Kobe Bean Bryant with Tuesday’s 119-115 loss to a Los Angeles Lakers team that bade farewell to a 10-game losing streak themselves.
Playing the Wolves for the final time before he retires this spring, Bryant turned the calendar back pages and page with a 38-point night that included seven of his team’s 12 three pointers.
“I hate him,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “If I don’t ever see him again, it won’t be too soon. I hate him.”
Mitchell coached Toronto that night when Bryant scored 81 points in a game against the Raptors 10 years ago last month. On Tuesday, he watched Bryant at age 37 makes those seven threes and score 14 of those 38 points in a fourth quarter when the Lakers prevailed and avoided setting a franchise record for consecutive losses, in Minneapolis or Los Angeles.
“He was like 2006 Kobe out there,” Wolves guard Zach LaVine said after his team lost for the fifth consecutive time.
And the Wolves were their enigmatic selves: So uninspired for the first half and then some when they trailed by as many as 16 points and then so invigorated for the game’s final 14 minutes.
That’s when the Wolves used a 26-11 run that ended the third quarter and started the fourth quarter and took a very brief 102-101 lead with 5:45 left that lasted only until Bryant answered right back with consecutive three-point shots made.
When it was finally over, the Wolves had set a season high for assists with 36 – 11 in the third quarter alone, 21 in the second half and 15 from Ricky Rubio himself – and also forced too many bad passes that Mitchell called “home-run” attempts and didn’t play enough defense to beat an opponent that hadn’t won a game in three weeks.
“I mean, we didn’t show up today in the first half,” Rubio said. “We try to come back in the second half. It’s just not who we want to be. It wasn’t basketball at all, the first half was unacceptable. I don’t know. It’s painful, painful seeing us lose so many games. It seems like sometimes we don’t care.”
When the Wolves starting moving the basketball, they erased the Lakers’ 85-70 lead late in the third quarter, almost just like that.
“We must have short memories,” Mitchell said. “When we move the basketball, when we run and move the ball, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. But when we hold the ball, we’re going to struggle, all teams do.”
Wolves young star Andrew Wiggins nearly matched Bryant shot for shot down the stretch in a shooting-guard matchup that featured the Lakers’ glorious past and the Wolves’ intriguing future.
Wiggins made all six field goals he attempted and scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter before he fouled out with 7.5 seconds left.
The two players exchanged smiles and words more than once, including an exchange after Wiggins backed Bryant down, spun and scored on a turnaround jump shot over him.
“When I hit the half-spin fade, he said it looked familiar,” Wiggins said, “and I said, `I got it from you.'"
Bryant attributed his performance to “just the rhythm of the game” and praised Wiggins, noting the difference a year makes while doing so.
“I was very impressed with his turnaround in the post,” Bryant said. “The first year he came in the league, he was off-balance with it, exposing the ball too much. Now that one, it was textbook. Textbook. Hid the ball well, elevated well, faded well. I was impressed.”
When asked if he found it valuable to be on that stage with Bryant for a final time for the experience of it, Wiggins said, ““Definitely. The way he approaches everything, talking to him, taking what he knows. You’re talking to greatness.”
And still Mitchell hates him, greatness or not.
“I want to win the game,” Mitchell said when asked if there’s value in Wiggins’ duel with Bryant. “The rest of that stuff is good for NBA TV or the bloggers. We’re trying to win the game. You look at the stat sheet and we did some really good things. Just too many bad decisions and not enough defense.”
With both power forward Kevin Garnett (leg) and center Nikola Pekovic (sore foot) out Tuesday, the Wolves brought back Adreian Payne from a D League assignment after only three games there because they needed another big body. Payne averaged 26.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and shot 44.4 percent while with the Erie, Pa., team.
“We need him,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “Where we had an abundance now we don’t have enough so there are minutes for him now. He scored and rebounded, did the things we wanted him to do. The main thing when you send a guy down is you want them to get their feel and touch back.”
Big KAT wins again
Karl-Anthony Towns is 3-for-3 for his career with Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards. He followed awards for November and December by winning in January, too. Towns averaged 16.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and shot 53.5 percent for the month. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis won for the third consecutive month in the East. Towns’ teammate Andrew Wiggins did the same last season on his way to the Rookie of the Year award.
“It’s good for Karl and it’s good for our organization,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said.
• The Wolves are calling Pekovic out on a game-to-game basis because of pain he continues to feel in his surgically repaired foot.
• Veteran guard Kevin Martin missed his fifth consecutive game because of a bruised wrist. He said he hopes to play again before next week’s All-Star break, which also happen to be the final games before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
• Playing a Lakers team with retiring Kobe Bryant on it for the final time, Mitchell was asked by a Los Angeles reporter about the 81 points Bryant scored when Mitchell coached Toronto. After an icy pause, “Dude, I think I answered that question for the last five years enough.”