On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 2, 2005

If the Lakers are going to do something rare and win the second game of a back-to-back (they are 5-16 in the last 21), the game at Staples tonight is going to need to resemble the first half of the win in Utah.

Specifically, Kobe was not the sole offensive focus and his teammates knocked down shots (for the game, Kobe and Odom combined to shoot an unimpressive 36.4% eFG%). You knew the 6 of 6 three-point shooting would decline, but the fact remains that for one night Smush and other players stepped up. Same in overtime — Sasha is showing signs of maturing into a solid NBA player (and not just because of that shot but in the last couple of games overall).

Luke Walton started the second half against Utah and I think he should remain in the first five for a while — the offense just flows better with him in the game (he is a +11 total in the last two games and now has a Roland Rating of +9). That said, the Lakers are not a better defensive team when he is on the floor and other guys (Smush, Kobe, Mihm) will have to pick up some of the slack at that end. Mihm seemed to against Utah, which is why he led the team with a +19.

And no, Kobe was not fouled on that last shot, but that’s the advantage of having a superstar on your team, sometimes you get those calls.

That brings us to tonight. Did you know if the playoffs started today the 7-6 T-Wolves would be the three seed?

The Timberwolves continue to play good overall defense this season, with a defensive rating of 102 (points per 100 possessions), tied with the Lakers for fifth in the league. Teams are shooting just 44.7% on them. That is a dramatic improvement from last year when Flip Saunders was the coach (by the way, Flip’s Pistons are 19th in the league in defense right now — the man does not appear to be a good defensive coach).

Trenton Hassell slowed Kobe to a 12 of 26 night when these two played last month and the Lakers as a team shot just 42.3%. Outside of Kobe and Odom the Lakers shot just 40.3%, which brings us back to the fact the rest of the Lakers need to step up like they did last night. Also, the T-Wolves stymied the Lakers with a zone defense late in that last game that the Lakers will see more of and need to execute better against.

Minnesota is shooting the ball well so far this season, with a team eFG% of 49.8%, fifth best in the league (compared to the Lakers 44.9%). What hurts them offensively is they are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league (just 21.9% of their misses) — for the Lakers to win they need to keep that T-Wolves off that glass.

While the media just talks about him allegedly being unhappy and trade rumors, Kevin Garnett continues to play like an MVP — he has a PER of 27.2, fifth best in the league. He is averaging 22.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, while shooting 56.7% (EFG%). Crazy good numbers.

This is a team that the Lakers should see as a peer — right about their talent level and a team that needs to play its best every night if they are going to make the playoffs. Sure it’s the second game in as many nights, but these are the kind of games playoff teams find a way to win.