Records: Lakers 50-18 (1st in West), T’Wolves 14-55 (Last in West, 36.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (10th in NBA), T’Wolves 101.4 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.8 (4th in NBA), T’Wolves 111.0 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T’Wolves: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Al Jefferson, Darko Milicic
How’s your bracket doing?: Mine is busted. As a matter of fact, mine was never even fully formed to begin with. Let’s just say I didn’t save my work when I made my picks and I had a bunch of unassigned picks. Now, I’m sitting there with a bunch of red on my bracket and it looks quite ugly. So, my goal to not come in last in the FB&G pool is pretty much dead in the water. I did pick St. Mary’s though.
A fun fact about the Lakers and the NCAA tourney – only Shannon (Michigan St.) and Ammo (Gonzaga) are alumni of schools that actually made the tournament. I don’t have any figures to support this, but that’s got to be a leauge low. On a side note to this, The Lakers have 5 players that didn’t even attend college in the US – Kobe, Sasha, Pau, Bynum, and Mbenga. Who do you think would win in a matchup of that “non-college” team vs. the “went to college” team if they scrimmaged in practice? I would have to say that any team with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum would win just by dominating the inside. On the other hand, they’d be slow in transition defense and probably terrible covering the P&R. In the end, just like when filling out his bracket, Kobe would probably cheat to win.
The T’Wolves Coming in: Minnesota is a bad team. There’s just no getting around that. They’ve got the second worst record in the league, ranking second to last in offense and third from the bottom in defense. And even though coming into this season many understood that Minnesota was rebuilding and that patience would be required with this team, that doesn’t change the fact that this team is losing a lot of games and are on pace to be even worse, record wise, than last season. The guys who are taking the most heat for this are GM David Kahn, and head coach Kurt Rambis. Kahn for his drafting (Rubio is still, probably, 2 seasons away from joining the team and Flynn is probably the 4 best PG taken in that draft while being the 3rd taken – after Tyreke and Rubio) and Rambis for some questionable decisions with his rotations – espcecially how he’s utilizing Kevin Love (who is not starting, and even when Jefferson was out with injury did not start).
But all is not awful for the ‘Wolves. They do have Al Jefferson who, despite not being 100% recovered from his knee injury from last season, has shown flashes of his old self. And they also have some young players that are improving (Corey Brewer) and others that are finding their way in this league despite being thrown into the fire (Flynn). Is that enough for the fans of ‘Sota? At this point, it will have to be because there aren’t too many other positives for this organization right now. Especially when the team has lost 17 of 18 games. Yikes.
Keys to game: When the team you’re facing struggles to score and also struggles to defend, the game plan for the defending NBA champions is really quite simple: play your normal game. Minnesota doesn’t have the individual talent to contain the Lakers in one on one matchups nor the team structure/schemes to slow them down as a unit. So, on offense, attack Minnesota inside and make their big men (especially Jefferson and Love) defend the paint. Both of those players are sub-par on that side of the ball and they will not be able to handle the Lakers bigs. We should see stat lines from Bynum and Gasol similar to the ones that they put up against Golden State and Sacramento. Be patient wit the ball and attack them inside out. The one player that can defend some is Darko Milicic, who was recently acquired via trade with the Knicks (Darko has been playing better of late, too). So, I am anxious to see how he does against our twin towers and if things go poorly for him, there’s always the chance we could see this again. That’d be tremendous.
On defense, the Lakers are going up against a team that runs the same offensive system that they do (supposedly) so there should be some familiarity in what the ‘Wolves are doing on that side of the ball. That said, there are specific things that the Lakers should look out for that vary from the typical Triangle actions. One is the high P&R between Flynn and Jefferson. Flynn is an explosive player that can turn the corner and finish in the paint. While he’s not as big nor as strong as Tyreke Evans, they are similar types of players so the Lakers must make him an outside shooter and deny his penetration. Another key to holding down Minnesota’s offense is to contain Al Jefferson. As I mentioned earlier, he’s still finding his stride after he blew out his knee last year, but he’s a dangerous player on the low block with an array of hooks, feints, and up and under moves that can make even the most solid of post defenders look silly. So, body up Big Al, make him go to his left hand by turning over his right shoulder and respect his jump hook all the way out to 12 feet. Al’s not the biggest or most athletic player so Bynum and Gasol need to stand their ground and make him finish over the top of their extended arms.
Besides Flynn and Jefferson, mark Kevin Love on the offensive glass. Love, despite his lack of jumping ability is a wide body that has trendous instincts for rebounding the basketball - especially on offense. He finds the little cracks and crevices in a team’s half court defense and then moves bodies to secure the ball. Sure, ‘Drew and Pau will have the reach advantage against Love, but he will move them under the hoop and make them put a body on him. And since straight up box outs are not a strength of our bigs, this could be a problem. If our bigs gang rebound tonight, we should be fine, but keep an eye on Love. Finally, the ‘Wolves play at the third fastest pace in the leauge. Spurred on by the defensive rebounding and outlet passing of Love and Jefferson, this team will push the ball and attack when fast break opportunities present themselves. Believe me, Derek Fisher remembers what this team can do in the open court. We don’t want to see any more of that (well, unless it’s a blowout – then a highlight play is always fun).
In the end, there will be no excuses if the Lakers lose this game. I don’t care if Rambis knows all of our secrets and has individual game plans for each of our players. The ‘Wolves are not a good team. A win should be coming as the Lakers hope to continue to build momentum down the final stretch. I’ll leave the final word to commenter lil’ pau, who is also looking big picture and playoff positioning:
Lakers have to win tonight and Sunday. That would put them at 52-18 and 4 up (at least) in the loss column over DAL and DEN. Even assuming they lose HCA to both teams, that would mean they would clinch the west going 9-3, 8-4 would mean DAL or DEN would have to win out, and 7-5 would mean that Dallas would have to go 13-1 or Den 12-1. I know the Lakers have a brutal roadtrip ahead, but I don’t credibly see them playing only .500 ball over their last 12.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time out west on Fox Sports West, also on ESPN Radio 710am.