Wenyen Gabriel earns some 'you are a dawg' encouragement from LeBron James
LeBron James walked up to an exhausted Wenyen Gabriel as he exited the game with 7 minutes and 41 seconds left and tapped the Lakers backup center in the chest while offering instructions and some more encouragement.
Gabriel poured all he had into the the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at Target Center, playing his role at a high level in the fourth quarter and listening intently to every word James had to say.
Gabriel had completed his night with four points, two rebounds and some wisdom from James.
“Yeah, I was balling,” Gabriel said. “We were talking about a specific play. I kind of let KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) get off a three and he was letting me know that he doesn’t like contact and he was telling me that I’m a dawg and ‘you got to be physical and do those things and that’s why you’re out here on the floor.’
"And he was kind of encouraging me right there. He was also saying, ‘Good job. You are a dawg.’ He was kind of reinforcing and encouraging me to do what I do best.”
The hustle, grit and determination displayed by Gabriel in the fourth quarter was instrumental for the Lakers in a win that moved them into seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
At times it was his defense on Towns or center Rudy Gobert. Other times it was his effort on the backboards, including two offensive rebounds in the fourth.
He even scored on a floater in the fourth to push the Lakers’ lead to 12 points.
“Wenyen gives us great energy and the best thing about Wenyen is he loves to be held accountable,” James said. “He doesn’t mind me going after him if he makes mistakes, or when he’s great, I always big him up. He’s been great for us all year and it was another moment tonight. He was just huge for us in the minutes that he had.”
When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Gabriel was on the court. He wasn’t afraid of the moment and didn’t back down from the challenge.
“I definitely played with as much energy as I possibly could out there, trying to play smart,” Gabriel said. “That was like a playoff type of atmosphere out there. It really charged me up and that’s the type of thing that I know we are going to see in games like that down the line and to see and to play well and be in the game in the fourth quarter in a game of this magnitude is something that is good for my confidence.”
Gabriel played the first 5:01 of the fourth quarter and made his only shot.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham was not afraid to use Gabriel.
“Wenyen being able to come in and give us minutes — and not just be a body or a filler,” Ham said. “He’s actually active on the glass. He catches and finishes at a really, really high level. His ability to change ends of the floor and get up and down the floor is huge for us. So, he’s been a great, great, pleasant surprise, and a huge part of what we’re trying to do.”
Jarred Vanderbilt provides the defense
Jarred Vanderbilt is the Lakers' all-purpose defender.
He started the game guarding Towns, a 7-foot foot power forward/center, and spent time guarding Anthony Edwards, a 6-5 shooting guard.
That’s the job role that Vanderbilt relishes. The assignment doesn’t matter to Vanderbilt, he’ll grind on defense.
“Just to set the tone defensively,” Vanderbilt said. “I feel like we did that at the start of the game and the goal was to make everything tough for Ant [Edwards] and early on for KAT [who] got some easy looks. But I think we turned it up as a unit in the second half and we was just locked into the game plan. They still made some shots but we made every shot tough.
“For me individually, man, just try to get those guys out of rhythm. For me, I think that’s one of my best ways to make an impact is taking their best player out of the game and I think when we do that and allow those other guys [the chance] to beat us we get good results.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.