Monday, October 4, 2010

T-Wolves defeat Lakers in London

Kobe Bryant
Bryant (right) was never likely to get much game time at the 02 Arena

By Andrew McKenzie
BBC Sport at the 02 Arena

The Minnesota Timberwolves upset the LA Lakers with a 111-92 pre-season victory staged at London's O2 Arena.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant played just six minutes as the NBA champions were seen off by the young and hungry T-Wolves.

Martell Webster led Minnesota with 24 points off the bench, and Marcus Beasley added 21 to their total.

Lamar Odom picked up some of the slack in the absence of Bryant, who is coming back from knee surgery, and top-scored for the Lakers with 17 points.

Bryant started the game but was taken out after missing all three shot attempts, and despite calls from the crowd for his return, Lakers coach Phil Jackson kept the 32-year-old on the bench for the remainder of the game.

Odom scored 13 points in a first half that remained tight throughout, and he led all scorers as LA held a one-point advantage at the break.

But Beasley scored 10 in the third quarter and the T-Wolves hustle saw the Lakers offence produce a number of errors and helped Kurt Rambis's side open up a 16-point lead.

Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela
Several Arsenal players were at courtside

Minnesota's Serbian big man Darko Milicic produced the defensive play of the night with a huge block on a Derek Fisher three-point attempt as the Lakers struggled to live with the T-Wolves, who had the second worst record in the league last season.

The Lakers, who were missing starting centre Andrew Bynum through injury, were unable to significantly eat into the lead as the T-Wolves saw out the final quarter.

It was the fourth year in a row the NBA has hosted a game in London as part of their Europe Live pre-season tour that also takes in Milan, Paris and Barcelona this year.

Before the game, NBA commissioner David Stern re-affirmed the league's commitment to developing basketball in Britain.

He said participation rates were increasing but hoped to persuade "another one in 10 children in the UK to bounce a ball rather than kick a ball" and believed the sport would "be the biggest ticket at the Olympics" in 2012.

The game, held at the venue for the basketball finals at the 2012 Games, was announced as a sell-out for the fourth consecutive year but a few seats remained empty, with the tube strike possibly having an effect on the attendance.

There was no sign of Lakers regulars Jack Nicholson or David Beckham but in the crowd were Premier League footballers Cesc Fabregas, Darren Bent and Chelsea's Ashley Cole, who received some boos when his face appeared on the big screen, and 'Gavin and Stacey' star James Cordon.

There was no shortage of entertainment, with the Lakers bringing over their famous cheerleaders, the usual crowd participation and the sight of a couple of inflatable timberwolves threatening to overshadow the play on court.

The Timberwolves go on to play the New York Knicks in Paris on Wednesday, while the Lakers head to Spain to face Pau Gasol's old side Barcelona on Thursday.

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