LONDON (AP)—Michael Beasley scored 21 points—including eight straight to help break open the game at the start of the second half—in his Timberwolves debut to help Minnesota beat the Los Angeles Lakers 111-92 Monday in their preseason opener in London.
Kobe Bryant only put in a brief appearance for defending NBA champion Los Angeles, going scoreless in a little more than six minutes of playing time. That wasn’t enough to satisfy the crowd at the sold-out O2 Arena, which chanted “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” during the second half. Bryant, who is still recovering from knee surgery in the offseason, answered with polite laughs on the bench, but the pleas had little effect on coach Phil Jackson.
“We had plans to play Kobe in two segments, but one was enough,” Jackson said. “He iced down at halftime. I probably should have told the PA announcer so he could tell the crowd.”
Bryant has only completed two full practices since training camp began, and said he likely wouldn’t have played at all if the game had been back home.
“I had a sense of responsibility to get out there and play for a little bit,” Bryant said, adding that the chants from the crowd tempted him to play more. “I wanted to get up and get in. But my shoes were already unlaced, and I had ice on my knees.”
Instead, it was Beasley and fellow newcomers Martell Webster and Anthony Tolliver that put on a show, helping the Timberwolves use a 32-13 third-quarter run to break open the game. Webster led all scorers with 24 points and Tolliver added 10.
Not a bad start for a team that is returning just five players from the roster that won only 15 games last season.
“I think we surprised everybody tonight,” Beasley said. “I don’t think anybody thought we would win. It shows our work ethic and our character. That’s what we’re here to show this year.”
Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 17 points, including 13 in a tight first half as the Lakers took a 56-55 lead into the break.
But Beasley, the forward who joined from Miami after the Heat acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh, made sure there would be little drama in the second half.
He drained a long jumper on Minnesota’s first possession and then added a 3-pointer, before driving the length of the court for a three-point play. He finished 8 of 10 from the floor in a little more than 18 minutes, and was rested for the entire fourth quarter.
“You can see Beasley is a very talented player,” Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm and passion. He freelanced a little bit too much for me, but that’s the way he is. He can create his own shots. I expect him to be a major contributor for us this year.”
Jackson had said before the game that Bryant would start but wasn’t likely to play more than eight minutes. He came off after the first time-out, having produced little on the floor. He went 0 for 3 from the field, including two missed 3-pointers.
He did take part in the first highlight of the night, however, stealing a pass from Beasley and feeding Odom on the fastbreak, and Odom finished with a one-handed dunk to make it 2-0.
Los Angeles was clearly the main attraction for the British crowd, with yellow Lakers jerseys vastly outnumbering the Minnesota shirts. However, the fans got to see little of the quality that earned Los Angeles back-to-back titles.
Ron Artest and Pau Gasol were largely anonymous, while Derek Fisher played just 15 minutes. Artest finished with three points, Gasol had seven and Fisher added 12. Center Andrew Bynum missed the game following knee surgery.
“Minnesota looked great. We looked like we just got off vacation,” Jackson said.
Rambis said it was clear the game meant more to his team than the Lakers.
“Any win is a good win, but I see the reality of it,” Rambis said. “Kobe only played a little bit. They don’t have the mindset to come out and win games. We’re a young team trying to win every time.”
Odom brought some laughs when Beasley fell down in front of him as he de drove the ball up the court. Odom had to leap over the forward and continued to run with an exaggerated high-stepping stride as he drove toward the basket, before passing behind his back to Derek Fisher. The guard’s shot was blocked into the stands by Darko Milicic.
The NBA’s annual European preseason tour continues with Minnesota playing the New York Knicks in Paris on Wednesday and the Lakers taking on Barcelona in Spain on Thursday in a homecoming for Gasol. Bryant said he expects to play about the same amount in that game.