Again last night, it was DJ Mbenga, the 7-0, 255 lbs. second-year Lakers back-up center from Kinshasa, Congo who provided the spark and spirited play off the bench in a 110-90 Los Angeles Lakers victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Mbenga established a new career high with 10 points and matched another with 5 blocked shots. With the Lakers maintaining an edge throughout the contest, the Bench Mob allowed the starters to take the entire 4th quarter off. Kobe Bryant finished his three quarters of work with 23 points, surpassing Robert Parish and placing him in 18th position on the all-time scoring list. Pau Gasol added 21 points and 9 rebounds, Josh Powell 14, Trevor Ariza 13, and Derek Fisher rounded out the scoring with a dozen. But it was Mbenga with his animated and efficient play in the 4th quarter that had both the Staples Center crowd and the Lakers bench jumping to their feet. He first blocked consecutive layup attempts by Rodney Carney, reminiscent of Tuesday’s contest against Memphis. He followed this with another pair of blocked shots later in the quarter on Shelden Williams, the second sailing to midcourt before bouncing harmlessly out of bounds. Chants of “MVP” chorused down to the bemused goliath and he responded by sinking a 16-footer. It was a good capping on the night to an otherwise routine Lakers victory.
The Bench mob provided 50 points in a game which no starter logged more than 31 minutes to help carry the Lakers to their 50th win of the season. They now leave for a 3-game road trip which starts in Portland on Monday, followed by stops in Houston, then San Antonio. Lamar Odom continued his recent slump, managing only two points on two shot attempts. Phil Jackson assuaged Odom’s play to “waking up on the wrong side of bed,” and “playing down to the level of the competition” but later added that he wasn’t too concerned with the recent swing. Another area of concern has been the inconsistent play of Jordan Farmer, who actually seemed stymied against Minnesota’s Sebastian Telfair. Farmer finished with 3 points on 1-6 shooting and seemed to be forcing his shot, either driving into heavy traffic or heaving up very long distance threes. Sasha Vujacic played a controlled 17 minutes of action and found his defensive rhythm against Mike Miller, who finished with 0 points and seemed unable or unwilling to take any shots. The game ended as a parade of Minnesota mishaps and miscues rather than Lakers offensive efficiency and defensive prowess. But a win is a win, and the Lakers enter their last 20 games with the league’s best record, Andrew Bynum on track to return by the end of the month, and at least one blogger happy that he’s not writing about another lackluster defeat.
dEGDE Post Scriptum
Manny Ramirez finally agreed to a 2-years, $45 million contract with the Dodgers and had fans in Los Angeles abuzz with equal parts anticipation and relief. How does one player affect a franchise so greatly and emotionally? How does one player inflict insomnia and insecurity into so many fans. How does one player’s decision to stay or to go, determine if he is forever remembered as a hero or a villain? Remember a few years back when the entire city was on pins and needles, wondering if Kobe would stay or bolt? News reports that he was leaning towards leaving left fans pleading with Kobe to stay. We loved him, we needed him, we nurtured him, therefore he rightfully belonged to us. And he stayed.
Boston fans can stick their heads in chowda, ‘cuz now we got both of them. Say what you want about how you didn’t want him anymore, or how you have the perfect triumvirate in the Three Amigos. Or how he disrupted the clubhouse and quit on the team, or how your team plays together as a team, not as an individual. Complain about how they’re selfish and self centered and only care about themselves while you mumble under your breath, “you’ll see…” It doesn’t matter, because we have them and you don’t. Quit your complaining because they’re on the Best Coast, not your coast. Say “farewell” to the Green Monster at Fenway and say “hello” to greener pastures on the other side of the hill. We don’t need the Garden, because we already live and play in Eden. Manny and Kobe, say it slowly…
They carry with them, all of our infinitesimal hopes and dreams in our quest for another stab at the title, just like in 1988 when Kirk Gibson and his Dodgers along with Magic Johnson and his Lakers completed the ultimate back-to-back. Together they stood as icons of a city unified in glory and achievement, proud as brooding parents as they paraded through the streets of downtown LA with the championship trophy lifted aloft for all to see and believe. Manny to the Dodgers is like Kobe to the Lakers. Both are now synonymous with Los Angeles. The Mamba and Man-Ram. Brothers-in-arms, protectors of all that is good in sunny SoCal, from the Santa Monica Bay down to the South Bay, through the OC out to the IE, from Westwood to Hollywood, down the Miracle Mile and up Angel’s Flight, stuck on the 101 and cruising with the top down on Hwy. 1.