LeBron James' triple-double, Lakers' bench overcome slow start to beat Timberwolves

Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) drives past Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) in the second half at Staples Center. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

There’s an element of patience that’s required with the Lakers.

Even though the team is coming out of the All-Star break, usually the time when restrictions are kicked away and teams start to gain speed, that landmark doesn’t mean the same thing this year.

The Lakers are in mid-March and still have 32 games before they get to the playoffs — a situation so abnormal that coach Frank Vogel emphasized it in his first meeting with the team once players came back together last week.

The message was simple: know where you are.

It’s like that every night too. Stay with it, wait on what works and when the moment comes, make the most of it. The Lakers’ bench, combined with a second straight triple-double from LeBron James, delivered a 137-121 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night at Staples Center.

In the 99th triple-double of James’ career, he scored 25 to go with 12 rebounds and 12 assists. He also blocked Minnesota’s Jake Layman on a dunk attempt at the rim, triggering the Lakers’ dominance in the second half.

The Lakers still are missing several key pieces — two starters in Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol and reserve guard Alex Caruso. And in an effort to best navigate this stretch without them, Vogel has kept two of his most productive players on the bench.

It means the Lakers can be prone to slow starts — they were in the first and third quarters Tuesday against Minnesota — waiting for Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma to feast on opposing benches. And Talen Horton-Tucker is in the mix too.

Lakers center Montrezl Harrell slam dunks over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez.
Lakers center Montrezl Harrell slam dunks over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez late in the game at Staples Center on Tuesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The trio combined to score 57 points — the entire Minnesota bench scored only 32 points. And their played helped erase a seven-point Minnesota lead in the second half, quickly turning that into a lopsided advantage for the Lakers.

Harrell’s role with the second unit — his preference — is all about comfort, and he showed why. He scored 25, his third game with at least that many points in the Lakers’ last four.

Kuzma, who has played some of the best all-around basketball of his career, scored 16 pushing the pace in transition while continuing to hit catch-and-shoot jumpers.

And there was Horton-Tucker, building off a 10-assist game to finish with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Top of the draft … and scouting report

The Lakers will see the top three players selected in last year’s draft this week: No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards took the floor Tuesday, in between the Lakers’ games with James Wiseman and Golden State on Monday and LaMelo Ball and Charlotte on Thursday.

Vogel said Edwards’ recent play — he’s averaging nearly 25 points and in the last two games made half his shots — has him right at the top of things the Lakers had to prepare for along with center Karl-Anthony Towns.

“He’s being ultra aggressive and definitely a big part of the scouting report,” Vogel said.

With 29 points, Edwards scored more than 20 for the seventh time in eight games, and Towns also scored 29.

Jones keeping up

The Lakers are more than halfway into Damian Jones’ second 10-day contract and it’s hard to imagine them not using an open roster spot to keep him for the remainder for the season.

As a fill-in starter with Gasol in the health and safety protocols, Jones has been as advertised — a springy big man who can finish at the rim. It’s how the Lakers started the game Monday, with a Jones dunk, and how they started things against Minnesota.

Jones had six of his eight points in the first quarter Tuesday, helping the offense get going for the second straight game.

He’s not the only surprise addition. Alfonzo McKinnie, a throw-in from Cleveland in the trade that allowed the Lakers to sign Gasol, played rotation minutes for the second straight game, coming off the bench and hitting a corner three in his only first-half shot.

Sloppy starts

The Lakers haven’t entered games with the sharpest focus, best exemplified by their NBA-worst average of 4.1 turnovers in the first quarter.

It surely was a topic of discussion after the Lakers turned it over eight times in the first quarter Monday against Golden State, and whenever the team gathers next, it’ll probably come up again.

The Lakers turned it over six times in the first quarter Tuesday, with Markieff Morris committing three and Dennis Schroder two. The six turnovers led to eight Minnesota points, giving the NBA’s fifth-least-efficient offense easy points that helped the Timberwolves get into rhythm.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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