Preview and Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  February 13, 2008

Records: Lakers 34-17 (5 seed); T-Wolves 10-40 (Hello Michael Beasley)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113 (3rd); T-Wolves 101.9 (29th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (8th); T-Wolves 111.5 (27th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radminovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
T-Wolves: Sebastian Telfair, Marco Jaric, Corry Brewer, Ryan Gomes. Al Jefferson

UPDATE: Kidd Going To Mavericks. ESPN is now saying this is basically a done deal: Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Devean George and Maurice Ager. Malik Allen also goes to Dallas. Jersey is expected to buy out Stackhouse, who may then return to Dallas (which is big for their depth).

My first reaction is not unlike the Suns getting Shaq — I’m not sure this makes them a lot better. It slows the Mavs down a lot and I’m not sure their defense really gets better. But, like the Shaq trade, if Kidd has another gear that he has not shown so far this season it could be a bigger help for the Mavericks than I see right now.

Commenter Reed lives in Dallas and had these thoughts:

Talent aside, the trade still is a huge needed boost for the Mavs as they were looking a little broken. I’m in Dallas and it has become apparent the 2 tragic playoff losses, injuries, and recent losses had gotten to the team. They needed a jolt and Kidd provides that.

One thing it does for the Mavs on the court is get Terry on the floor more. Avery did not like to play Harris and Terry together because one would be exposed defending 2’s. But Kidd is much better defending 2’s than 1’s these days because of his strength and diminished speed, allowing Terry to stay with the point guard. Terry also fits extremely well next to Kidd because he is a spot up shooter who doesn’t need a lot of time to get his shot off. Harris, Howard, and Dirk are not playmakers who were great at setting up shooters, but Kidd will be able to create more easy looks for him. I still don’t like Kidd with Dirk and Howard though — those guys don’t like to run, don’t cut to the rim, don’t run off screens without the ball, etc. Kidd also isn’t very good in the pick and roll anymore because the guard can just go under the screen and force him to shoot — meaning Dirk isn’t going to get the pick and pop or switch mismatch. Though, maybe they’ll just keep running the Terry/Dirk pick and roll for that reason.

Lakers Notes: Last game before the All Star break seems like a good time for a little reflection.

Remember a couple weeks ago, the Lakers were heading out on a road trip having just played some of their worst basketball of the season? I actually predicted a 4-5 road trip, looking at the way the Lakers were playing and some of the good teams coming up.

Those days now seem like five years ago.

The Lakers rose to the occasion against Detroit — only losing on a last-second shot — and then came the Pau Gasol trade. Since the moment he stepped on the court the Lakers offense has been a force, Pau is a natural fit in the triangle, with his ability to play at the basket or 18 feet out. With him and Kobe on the floor drawing doubles, the looks that shooters like Vladimir Radmanovic and Derek Fisher get are more open. Lamar Odom looks more comfortable in a lower-pressure role, grabbing rebounds and getting some points. The team is clicking on offense (covering up some defensive issues of late).

And the Lakers are now 6-2 on this long road trip, with a winnable game tonight.

With two of the Lakers best defenders due back next month (Bynum and Ariza), it’s hard not to be walking around with a big smile on your face.

And for the long run, remember this — the Lakers schedule gets easier from here on out. (Hat tip True Hoop)

The T-Wolves Coming In: While Minnesota has won just 10 games on the season, four of those have come in their last 10 games as the team shows signs of growth.

But that growth did not include last night, when Minnesota fell to New Jersey. According to senor Dwyer over at Yahoo!, Minnesota had no answer for stepped up defensive pressure that New Jersey applied late.

Over the summer Kevin McHale took a lot of heat for the Kevin Garnett deal, with people saying he should have done it earlier and that way gotten more back. Maybe so. But he did get Al Jefferson back, giving the T-Wolves a very strong, All-Star caliber center to build around. And when you look at some recent rebuilding-move trades, suddenly that trade doesn’t look so bad.

Of late Jefferson has been a beast — in the last 10 games he is averaging 25 points on 50.5% shooting, plus he’s pulling down 13 boards.

He’s been getting more help — if not consistent help — from some of the other young players there. Last night it was Telfair, who put up 24 and (again according to Dwyer) did some nice things on the pick and roll. Also, Gomes has had big nights against the Lakers — he can shoot the ball if you leave him open.

Randy Foye and Rashard McCants are injured and may not play (or would see limited minutes).

Keys To The Game: The second night of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves, and while they have young legs and like to run a little the Lakers should be able to pick up the pace and wear the Wolves down.

The key to slowing the Wolves is to stop the offense running through Jefferson. The Lakers need to keep Jefferson from getting great position deep on the block — he likes to do that early in the clock, trailing any break and before the defense gets set. Once down there, the Lakers do not have a body that can move him (who does?). The other key to slowing him is to pressure the less-than-amazing passers that handle the ball a lot of Minny — don’t let them get him the ball on the block.

According to the scouting report at Lakers.com, don’t be shocked to see the Lakers double Jefferson and try to make him pass out — that leads to turnovers.

The Lakers should be able to get their points — Minny plays a pretty basic defense with Jefferson trying to sag off and guard the paint. If he covers Gasol, the Lakers could score a lot with a high screen-and-roll — if Jefferson sags off, Pau drills the midrange pick-and-pop, if he comes out Fisher/Kobe/whoever has no big body defending the rim on the drive.

Also, you have to keep a body on Jefferson when a shot goes up, the Lakers did an iffy job on Dwight Howard in that regard and need to improve tonight.

Often the last game of a road trip and the last game before the All Star break are games that teams mail in. If the Lakers do that tonight they will be in a tough fight with a team who has some talent. If the Lakers show up focused like they have the last few games, Kobe may be able to leave early for New Orleans.

Where you can watch: Thank Buddha the Lakers back west of the Mississippi — game time is 5 p.m. and there is no tape delay out in LA. Nationally you need league pass (although I might flip over to that Suns/Warriors game on ESPN, which could be very entertaining).

Kurt

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