Preview: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 14, 2008

California v UCLA
Records: Lakers 19-3 (1st in the West) T-Wolves 4-18 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (3rd in league) T-Wolves 102.9 (25th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.7 (3rd in league) T-Wolves 110.0 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T-Wolves \Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Al Jefferson

Check Back During The Game: No live chat, but I will be at the game credentialed for the night (through the other hoops writing gig) and I’ll start a fresh game chat thread and throw up some comments from Staples.

Lakers notes: For everyone that thinks the Boston game will tell us a lot about these Lakers, Phil Jackson made this point at practice yesterday: The Lakers go on the road and play four games in five days, then come home about 2 a.m. on the 23rd. They’ll do a light practice the 24th, but because of the early start Christmas day there is no morning shoot around to walk through more plays and strategies. That is why the regular season is not like the playoffs, you don’t have the time for the detailed prep.

That doesn’t mean the game is meaningless, just that it doesn’t define June.

The T-Wolves Coming In: They are a team that is really struggling, having eight in a row and lost nine of their last 10. Now Kevin McHale is facing the poetic justice of having to coach the roster he created (he’s 0-3 so far).

The Wolves have some talent on the roster, the problem is they can’t seem to string together four quarters of good basketball. They hang around, look good for while and then get blown out in the last third or fourth. Or, they get crushed early, which usually comes with a late rally that is too little, too late. They play like a young, inconsistent team.

The Wolves also are different than a lot of teams the Lakers have faced recently in that their best scoring option is at the center spot in Al Jefferson. He is averaging 22 and 10, shooting 50% , while using 25% of the team’s offense when on the floor (21st most in the league, higher than any Laker but Kobe). I’ve watched him in person a few times and he is just a beast down low. He rarely gets thrown in with the great young centers in the game, but that is because he played on some bad Boston teams and bad teams here, the classic case of a good player overlooked because of his situation. This is a very good player.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Kevin Love, who is averaging 10 and 10 in Minnesota’s last 10 games, while shooting a solid 46% from the floor (for a rookie, not bad).

I’m also looking forward to seeing what happened to Mike Miller. The guy who should be Mr. Outside to what Jefferson does in the paint. He is taking more than two fewer shots per game, his three-point percentage is down to 37.5% (it was above 40% since 2004), and with that all of his shooting numbers are down across the board. He’s missed some time to injuries, but from the little I’ve seen, I’m not sure that’s not all of it.

Keys To The Game: The defensive matchup should be interesting, based on this quote from Phil yesterday.

“…it’s probably better to have (Andrew Bynum) on (Craig) Smith and Pau (Gasol) on Jefferson, but we’ll probably wait and see how that goes. He’s a guy that doesn’t want to readily give it up because he believes in his own scoring.”

Having Bynum on Smith allows him to double off him and trap more often, making Bynum the aggressor, which should be good for him. Whatever the assignments, this is a good matchup for the Lakers and their trapping defense as they can keep a couple bigs near the basket. Along with that, they need to clog the paint and make the T-Wolves shoot jumpers, because as a team the T-Wolves hit just 39% of them (and that’s egg%). Foye is shooting 38% on jumpers, and Mike Miller is still a good shooter but you don’t need to fear him as you once did. Just don’t let him get hot from three.

Offensively, the Lakers should be able to do what they want. The T-Wolves simply are not a good defensive team, as an example opposing teams have a higher PER at every position against them. That said, the Lakers are best when the ball goes inside and comes back out. They are especially weakened by good passing and ball movement.

Where you can watch: 6:30 Fox Sports and League Pass. And remember to swing by here for a special game thread.