In a roundabout way, the Lakers pulled out all the stops Friday night, essentially rolling out the red carpet treatment to welcome home one of their favorite sons, Kurt Rambis.
Better known as Superman during his playing days, and an attentive understudy as an assistant general manager and coach shortly thereafter, Rambis made his triumphant return to Los Angeles as head honcho of the Timberwolves. And prior to the opening tip, he received his ’08-09 championship ring for a job well done with Lakers a season ago.
Fittingly, the sellout crowd at Staples Center, 18,991 strong, stood during the ceremony at midcourt and roared in approval as Phil Jackson handed over the gaudy piece of jewelry to Rambis. One by one, members of the Lakers family acknowledged his presence, some offered a high five, others gestured with a simple handshake, but most gave him a hug.
It was the ultimate sign of respect for someone who had spent nearly 20 years of his life, give or take, dedicating himself to the Purple and Gold.
Once all the pomp and circumstance was finished, it was time to get down to business. And the Lakers did just that, handing the Rambis-coached Timberwolves a 104-92 defeat. The victory, however, might have come with a price given the fact that Kobe Bryant fractured his right index finger. Somehow, someway, he manages to play from start to finish.
*** Normally, press conferences before the game are somewhat boring. This one wasn’t. Somebody asked Jackson a question about Adam Morrison and his playing time. Adam Morrison? Really? Come on, the guy rarely sees any action. Before answering, the Zen Master glanced at his watch, in what appeared to be disgust, as if he didn‘t have time for this type of stuff. Several members of the media laughed underneath their breath, myself included. His response didn’t matter, Jackson’s expression told the story.
*** From the second Rambis arrived in the City of Angels, he was bombarded with question after question about how it was going to feel to finally accept his ring. “It’s always good to get it, because it signifies a lot,’’ he said. “It’s good to show my family and add it to the others in the attic somewhere.” Must be nice. Can you imagine how many other NBA types wish they could be so nonchalant about things…
*** Well, well, well. Look who’s in the starting lineup for Minnesota, Kevin Love, a West Coast cat if there ever was one. He attended Lake Oswego High in Oregon before taking a road trip down south for college life at UCLA. Actually, getting Love involved early on makes sense considering the Lakers are loaded in the frontcourt. It will be interesting to see how he does tonight.
*** Andrew Bynum gets things going with a pair of layups. With added confidence, some fine footwork down in the low post confuses Al Jefferson, leads to an open look at the basket and a nice left-handed bank off the window follows to give the Lakers an 8-6 lead at 9:02.
*** After a miss by rookie Jonny Flynn, Love gets loose underneath, snatches the ball out of mid-air, and in one motion, throws down a two-handed dunk as Minnesota takes a 14-12 advantage with 6:07 left. Love is 1-5 from the floor, but finishes with 7 rebounds in less than nine minutes.
*** The Timberwolves can’t stop Pau Gasol. He uses a spin move on Love to get to the baseline for a slam, hits a hook shot over Ryan Hollins minutes later, and then, beats Jefferson down the floor for a dunk. At the end of one, the Lakers are up 33-24 and Gasol has 10 points and 6 rebounds.
*** Ramon Sessions enters the game. This guy need more playing time bye the way. He goes hard to the hole for a layup then dishes to Wayne Ellington for a three-pointer. All of a sudden, the Timberwolves are down just six points at 8:55.
*** John Black, Lakers Vice President of Public Relations, one of the best in the business, spreads the word about Kobe’s injury, called an avulsion fracture, with 7:22 left.
*** The next trip down the floor, with his off hand, Bryant throws a perfect lob to Shannon Brown, who goes airborne to finish the alley-oop with a thunderous dunk to give the Lakers a 42-35 lead. Fans that would like to see Brown in the Slam Dunk contest this year need to take some time and check out LetShannonDunk.com.
*** Sessions is back at it, once again. He knocks down a 17-footer, a 7-footer, a 21-footer, a 13-footer and caps things off with a two-handed breakaway dunk to cut the deficit to 56-54 at the break. Sessions plays so well that Flynn gets comfortable on the bench. In 12 minutes, Sessions scores 12 points on 6-6 shooting to keep Minnesota close.
*** Jefferson begins flexing his muscle underneath. He converts a layup first. Then Big Al uses a pump fake to lose Bynum and floats in a shot over the out-stretched arm of Gasol. The Timberwolves trail 60-54 with 9:30 on the clock. For the record, Jefferson doesn’t ever back down and ends up finishing the night with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
*** With his finger taped, Kobe is back out on the court, although he’s a bit tentative. At least he is initially. After misfiring on a couple of earlier attempts, he buries one from way downtown, converts a driving layup, knocks down a jumper from just inside the three-point arc and makes a free-throw to extend the lead to 72-63 at 4:05.
*** Quiet up to this point, Corey Brewer makes some noise. With Derek Fisher serving as the last line of defense, Brewer takes off well from behind the restricted area and throws down a ruthless right-handed dunk, sending the veteran sprawling to the ground. If that play doesn’t make the cut for Slamadaday, there’s something wrong. Seriously wrong.
*** Minutes later, the Bench Mob makes a contribution for the Lakers. Jordan Farmar hits a three-pointer and then finds Lamar Odom wide-open from deep and he knocks down a triple to give the Lakers an 86-68 lead at the end of three.
*** Gasol starts the game off strong and little changes the rest of the way. Despite being triple-teamed, he makes a nine-footer and the Lakers are up by 13 points with 7:24 remaining. For good measure, he makes basket and a free-throw down the stretch and ends up with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 7 assists.
*** The game is getting out of hand. Kobe makes a 6-footer and promptly exits for good with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Odom scores 6 points and that’s all she wrote. Lakers win 104-92.
*** Afterward, in the Lakers locker room, everyone wanted to know the extent of Kobe’s injury, and rightfully so. “It’s pretty painful,” he said. “I just tried to play through it… You just get used to it, that’s all.’’ Fair enough. Bryant knows best. At this stage of the game, there’s no indication that the setback will force him to miss any time.
*** Can’t imagine Love will look back and think he shot the ball particularly well, not after finishing 3-14 from the field for 7 points. He did, however, do a good job on the boards, pulling down a career-high 19 rebounds. What can we expect the next time around? “How about 25, and I’m saying that with a straight face, write that down,‘’ he said.