Records: Lakers 2-2; Minnesota 0-3
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.8; T-Wolves 105
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.6; T-Wolves 114.5
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Chris Mihm
Minnesota: Sebastian Telfair, Rashad McCants, Ryan Gomes, Greg Buckner, Al Jefferson
Lakers Notes: Lamar Odom returns tonight and will start, moving Luke Walton to a second unit that can really move the ball around (Walton, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum are all good passers). Itâ€™s great to have Odom back at his natural three spot, I have high hopes for what this will mean. But not tonight. Expect some limited minutes and some rust from Odom, and it may throw a kink or two in the offense at points tonight. Still his presence is welcome and needed.
Mo Evans is not expected to play, and Kwame is not likely either. Kwame is a particular loss tonight against a team where they could have used him along the front line, he is the strongest Laker post defender. His loss puts a lot of pressure on Mihm tonight, who was rusty but passable in his start the other night. Bynum is going to have to step up as well.
One other not that Bill Dwyre brought up in his Luke Walton profile today I forgot to mention â€” the play at the end of the first half of the New Orleans game, a sign to me that this Lakers team may have a little something special going on. If you remember, Kobe sank two free throws with nine seconds left to tie the game at 55. The Hornets come down and Chris Paul got into the lane, posts up and then hits a little fadeaway to make it 57-55 with just under two seconds left. Usual NBA protocol here is for someone to give the ball to Kobe or Fisher to try the three-quarter court heave. But as the ball goes through the net Turiaf turns and starts running up court, Walton grabs the ball to make the inbounds pass, sees the hustling Turiaf and does his best Kevin Love imitation and throws it long, hitting Turiaf in stride. Truiaf beats his guy for a lay-up and a 57-57 game at half. Maybe it didnâ€™t matter in end this time, but this is the kind of little thing that wins games.
The Timberwolves Coming In: They knew it was going to be like this â€” a total rebuild is ugly for a couple years. But at least Minnesota finally decided to go with the total rebuild rather than the horrible â€œbuild around KG on the flyâ€ thing they had been doing with no success with the past couple of years.
This yearâ€™s team isnâ€™t as bad as some predicted. They have a rock-solid center in Al Jefferson, an old-school beast on the block. If he plays 40 minutes you can expect 21 and 14. But Randy Foye â€” who I expect to have a break out year â€” is out indefinitely. Sebastian Telfair is getting his shot, weâ€™ll see over the course of the year what he really can be â€” nearly 30% of his possessions end in an assist, but he is shooting just 31% on the year. Weâ€™re also learning about the athletic but out of control Gerald Green. Ryan Gomes is a player I like, although in an ideal world he is a guy coming off the bench for some scoring spark. And note to Ronny Turiaf and Odom â€” Buckner has a nice range and is shooting 59.4% (eFG%) and 37% form three this season, Donâ€™t ignore him.
The T-Wolves have caught teams off guard early â€” they have had first-quarter double-digit leads in all three games. This is a team that has hung in games until about halfway through the fourth quarters, when other teams have found a gear the Wolves have yet to locate. This season is going to be a lot of that for them.
Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: Best break down of what Ronny Turiaf means to the league I have seen is up at Free Darko (great work Carter).
Keys To The Game: Last year the Lakers didnâ€™t seemed focused for games like this, but good teams beat the teams they should and this is one the Lakers should win.
T-Wolves coach said Marco Jaric is going to start on Kobe, so that should mean a big night for #24. Look for Corey Brewer and Gerald Green â€” both athletic guys but a little young for this task â€” to get their chances as well. This is a game Kobe should be able to get his when he wants it, and last season he dropped 40 and 50 on Minny.
Last year at Staples I had great seats for Al Jefferson pushing Andrew Bynum around the paint like he was Chuck Nevit. Iâ€™m curious to see what the more fit Bynum can do, but bottom line is the Lakers deep front line is going to have to work to not let Jefferson control the paint.
This is also a game where the Lakers depth should prove a big advantage â€” Walton, Farmar, Radmanovic and Bynum will find this is not Houston or Utah in terms of second units. They can take over this game and give the Lakers a big lead. And part of the reason for the late fades by Minnesota is that the starters donâ€™t get a lot of rest if things get out of control.
Tonightâ€™s Game: Where Odom Happens: Odom being back is the story, but Iâ€™m not sure heâ€™ll be the key at the end. Look for the T-Wolves to hang in their for a while â€” maybe into the third quarter. This is a team that will hustle. But look for the Lakers bench to start a third quarter run, Kobe to torch whoever tries to cover him and the Lakers to pull away comfortably late.
Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). No national broadcast (ESPN gives you the Cavs and Kings) and in LA it is Fox Sports. Because of the late starts, I havenâ€™t â€œwatchedâ€ a game online yet, but whose system is better this year, ESPN or NBA.com?