StaTuesday: Kobe Bryant’s career vs. the Timberwolves
With Minnesota being in the same conference as the Los Angeles Lakers, the Timberwolves faced Kobe Bryant many times over his career.
In fact, Bryant played Minnesota in 64 games during the regular season, tied for his sixth-most against any opponent.
How did the Timberwolves fare against Bryant? Relatively speaking they did … OK.
Bryant averaged 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists against the Wolves, which was very close to his career averages of 25.0, 5.2 and 4.7.
The 24.2 ppg ranks tied for 17th among the 29 NBA franchises Bryant went against.
However, while Kobe’s scoring might have been slightly below his career average, he shot well against the Wolves. Bryant made 45.3% of his field-goal attempts, 36.3% of his 3 attempts and 84.5% of his free-throw attempts vs. Minnesota. His career averages were 44.7%, 32.9% and 83.7%.
Bryant made 94 3-pointers against the Wolves. He only hit more from downtown against Golden State (104) and Seattle/Oklahoma City (96) and had a higher percentage of made 3s against just Washington (40.1%) and New York (37.1%).
Things didn’t start off strong for Bryant as a rookie, when he averaged 7.6 points per game mainly coming off the bench. In four games vs. Minnesota he scored 18 points combined. In his first matchup – Nov. 3, 1996 in Los Angeles – which was also his first games with the Lakers (he did not play in the season opener two days prior), he was scoreless, missing his only shot attempt, with one rebound, one block and one turnover.
Bryant had his first 20-point game against Minnesota on Nov. 19, 1997, getting exactly 20 in the teams’ first meeting of the season. His first 30-point game wouldn’t occur until April 12, 2001, again in L.A., when he had 30 points on 14-of-24 shooting. Kobe wouldn’t hit 30 points in Minnesota until March 14, 2003.
In all, Bryant had 17 games against Minnesota with 30+ points, his last coming, appropriately, in the final time he’d face the Timberwolves, a 38-point effort on Feb. 2, 2016.
Bryant reached 40 points against the Wolves just twice – and they came weeks apart. On Feb. 6, 2007, Bryant scored 40 in Minnesota in a 117-106 Wolves victory. That would be one of just 17 times Bryant would lose to Minnesota in his 64 regular-season games against them. Twelve days later in L.A., he had nearly half the Lakers’ points, tallying 50 to help down Minnesota 109-102.
The Wolves and Lakers squared off in the playoffs twice during Bryant’s tenure in the NBA. Both series would go six games and both times Los Angeles emerged victorious. Bryant averaged 28.1 points in those postseason contests.
In 2003, Minnesota and L.A. met in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs and Bryant had 39 points, his playoff high vs. the Wolves, in the opener. He’d reach 30 points in five of the six games that series, including 31 in the clincher.
The following season the teams faced off in the Western Conference Finals. Kobe had 30 points just once – 31 in a Game 4 win – and had just 20, his playoff low vs. the Wolves, in the Game 6 clincher.
The next season, Minnesota would take three of four games during the regular season – the only time the Wolves would win a season series vs. a Bryant-led Lakers squad. But Kobe would taste defeat at the hands of Minnesota just one time between the 2006-07 and 2012-13 seasons before the Wolves took three of the next four matchups.
In the final meeting between the two teams, which we referenced above, Kobe had those 38 points – his third-highest output against Minnesota – and, fittingly, won.