On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  March 15, 2006

Record: 26-36, 12th seed in the West, 5.5 games back of the Lakers
Record last 10 games: 3-7
Laker record against Wolves: 0-3
Offensive Rating: 104.6 (25th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 106 (12th in the NBA)

Always look on the bright side of life: After a loss like last night, then having to play a back-to-back against a team we have yet to beat this season, we can all use a pick-me-up. So today’s preview is all about optimism.

The Lakers odds of making the playoffs are 93.88%:
Seriously. Over at the stats-friendly APBRmetrics message board, a poster called 94by50 pulled a trick out of the old Baseball Prospectus bag and calculated the odds of teams to make the playoffs based on performance up to that point in the season compared to the upcoming schedule. (For those that haven’t seen it, BP starts doing this a couple weeks into the season, which is way to early but fairly amusing, but by the end of the season it’s pretty accurate. If you want to know the math, follow the link above.)

The bottom line is the West shakes out like this:

Team, expected record, playoff chance %
1. Spurs, 62.68-19.32, 100.00
2. Mavericks, 62.08-19.92, 100.00
3. Suns, 56.81-25.19, 100.00
4. Grizzlies, 46.76-35.24, 99.59
5. Clippers, 46.72-35.28, 99.56
6. Nuggets, 44.85-37.15, 96.89
7. Lakers, 44.11-37.89, 93.88
8. Kings, 41.25-40.75, 59.61
9. Hornets, 39.95-42.05, 31.48
10. Jazz, 38.03-43.97, 8.83
11. Rockets, 37.97-44.03, 8.59
12. Wolves, 35.62-46.38, 1.12
13. Warriors, 34.79-47.21, 0.46
14. Sonics, 30.93-51.07, 0.00
15. Blazers, 24.24-57.76, 0.00

Now, that list is a couple weeks old and doesn’t count for the Nuggets getting the third seed for winning their division (something that needs to be changed, by the way). Also, while it shows the Kings finishing behind the Lakers, that is because the math is based on how the Kings have played all season long, not since Artest arrived. I think they get the six seed, personally, then probably beat Denver in the first round.

The two teams the Lakers need to be concerned with are Utah and the Hornets. John asked in the comments why I don’t fear Utah, it’s because they have the toughest schedule coming in and they are actually more inconsistent than the Lakers. As of today they are two games back of LA and with their schedule and play I just don’t see them making a run.

The Hornets are fading, 2-8 in their last 10. Their defense has been slightly better than the Lakers this season, but the Lakers can overcome that some nights with a powerful offense (8th best in the league — thank you Kobe). The Hornets have little to no O. So, while things don’t look great I can see the Lakers getting the eighth seed with 43-44 wins. And just making the playoffs was a good goal for this season.

Aaron McKie is back: He was suited up last night but did not play. Not sure how much he can give down the stretch, but good to see him back and at least getting a shot in practice.

Trying to Keep it positive: Sasha can’t keep playing as poorly as he has lately long, can he? He’s due to turn it around. Good shooting game from Smush last night.

His absence shows just how much the Lakers miss D. George’s energy and defense off the bench. And just how thin that bench is. Odom played a great first quarter.

Who are these guys? This T-Wolves team is not the same one the Lakers lost to three times this season, all before 2006. Gone is Wally Szczerbiak (we’ll see him next week in Boston), which is good because he was a match up problem for the Lakers.

In the last 10 games, Kevin Garnett has continued to put up MVP-like numbers but he has less of a supporting cast than Kobe. Ricky Davis has been average since coming over (a PER of 14.2, the league average is 15) and he has been the second best player on the squad. Basically the same concepts can be applied to Marcus Banks, who started off hot in Minnesota but has slowed some of late.

Key’s to a Laker win: This is a gut-check game, short handed on the road in a back-to-back. Kobe needs to lead from the outset and, most importantly, the Lakers need to play hard at the defensive end — outside of Garnett this is a team the Lakers can stop.

Like every night, how much the Lakers are focused and work on the defensive end is really the key. Defense in the NBA is as much about effort as anything — guys aren’t at this level if they are inept, but you have to at least slow their efficiency. Do that tonight and the Lakers can win. If not, hello .500.