Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers cruise past Timberwolves for laugher of a win


There haven’t been many of these games for the Lakers this season — Kobe Bryant icing his knees in the fourth quarter, guys joking around on the bench and nobody really stressed about the outcome.

The Lakers created a little space in the second quarter, pulled away in the third behind 11 points from Kobe Bryant (he finished with 33) and the Lakers cruised to a 116-94 win over the Timberwolves. That would be 21 consecutive wins for the Lakers over Minnesota.

The win also moves the Lakers within two games of the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West, and within two-and-a-half games of the seventh seed Utah Jazz (both of whom lost last night.

The two take always from this game are: 1) The Timberwolves are not very good; 2) The Lakers continue to play a little better each game as they find their identity and play with a little more desperation. Games they lost, leads they gave up in the past they do not now.

The Lakers never took their foot off the gas in this game, leading wire to wire. Kobe was at the heart of that — he pushed the team to grab the lead in the first quarter then was key to them pulling away in the third. He did that by returning more to his scorer mode — but he should have with the looks the Timberwolves were giving him early. Minnesota let Kobe get comfortable and after that, no matter what they did, he was going to be knocking down shots. By the third quarter he was three feet behind the arc and it didn’t matter.

Minnesota actually tried a lot of zone but the Lakers did a good job of attacking the soft middle of the zone and shooting over the top of it. Los Angeles hit 8-of-16 three pointers in the first half and maintained that pace throughout the game — L.A. shot 54 percent overall and 16-of-sf32 from three for the game. Dwight Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds but was back to being active again, particularly on defense.

Minnesota stayed within striking distance thanks to their guard play — J.J. Barea had 20, Luke Ridnour 19 and Ricky Rubio had 13 points and 13 assists.

This was the kind of laugher the Lakers thought they would have a lot of this season. Hasn’t worked out that way. But they will take the easy, relaxing win any time they can get it.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.