Records: Lakers 55-23 (1st in West), Timberwolves 15-63 (last in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.9 (11th in NBA), Timberwolves 101.7 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (5th in NBA), Timberwolves 111.3 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Injury Updtaes, Magic Numbers, the Playoffs, & Seedings: First of all, it looks like Kobe will not play again tonight. Kobe’s right knee is the one that he’s had surgery on, the one that he has tendonitis in, and the one that he wears a sleeve over during the games. So if he’s experiencing any discomfort or swelling in that knee I say rest him. As for Bynum, he’s likely to see his first game action when the post season begins on April 18th. This would actually put his recovery time right at the 4 week mark, which for those that have familiarity with this injury, is a reasonable timeline. Hopefully he can find his game legs rather quickly when he does return.
And speaking of the playoffs, for those that concern themselves with such matters, the Lakers magic number to clinch the #1 seed in the Western Conference (which secures them home court advantage in playoff series through the WCF) is one. One more win, no matter the opponent, is all the Lakers need to lock this down. Coming into the season, this was a goal for the Lakers and it looks like they’ll achieve it either tonight or one night soon. And while there were also larger regualar season goals (like having the best record in the entire league), I think it’s a great thing that for the third straight season the Lakers look to be the class of the West. I’m sure many feel that should be a given based off the Lakers talent level, but remember that this team has had many a missed game due to injury to some of it’s best players and it’s not easy to take every team’s best shot as the defending champ.
As for home court in the Finals (should the Lakers get that far) there have been questions about what would happen should the Lakers and Magic end up with the same regular season record (they have the same record as of today) and face off in the Finals? I’ll let John Hollinger (insider) explain how it would play out:
There has been some confusion about how a tie would be settled in the event of a Lakers-Magic Finals rematch. The league office confirmed for me this morning that since the two teams split their regular-season series, the tie would be decided by record against the opposite conference. That tiebreaker would favor the Lakers, who are 22-8 against the East, while the Magic are 20-10 versus the West.
Obvously, this is a long way off and there are no guarantees that either team makes it that far. But, this is important information for many so that question is now answered.
The Timberwolves Coming in: This season can’t end soon enough for the ‘Wolves. After pulling out a win on March 31st against the Kings to avoid a winless month of March (can you imagine losing every game but one in an entire month?!), the ‘Wolves are back to their losing ways dropping their last three. This is a squad that is poorly constructed and has not adapted well to the schemes that Kurt Rambis has installed. Combined with the fact that Rambis (an old Laker favorite of mine) has made curious rotation decisions – especially surrounding Kevin Love – and this ‘Wolves team is one that could easily be labled the worst in the entire league. Sure, the Nets have less wins, but the ‘Wolves have been even worse then New Jersey for the past month. Just a bad, bad year for Minnesota.
As for tonight’s game, Al Jefferson is “questionable” due to personal reasons and may not play in this contest. If Jefferson does in fact miss the game, the Wolves will start Love and Darko in the front court like they did against the Warriors two nights ago when the Dubs won the game that got Nellie the all time wins record. A game, by the way, where Love made his case for more playing time by scoring 17 points on 9 shots and pulling down 18 rebounds (including 5 on the offensive glass). Tell me again why this kid has only started 21 games of the 56 that he’s played in this year?
Keys to game: Even though the Lakers are playing one of the worst teams in the league, it should be noted that this is the second game of a back to back where the Lakers likely did not arrive into Minnesota until very early this morning after coming off a hard fought game last night. Also understand that becuase neither Kobe and Bynum played last night, that some of our players played heavy minutes – especially Artest (38) and Pau (43). When you combine all of this with a 5:00pm start time (PST) I would not be surprised to see the Lakers come out a bit sluggish to start the game and for them to have less than stellar energy for the entire contest. If there was one night were strong performances were needed from some of our backups, this game would be it.
As for strategy, the Lakers should play to their strengths and attack the biggest defensive weaknesses in the ‘Wolves starting lineup. That means an agressive Odom against Kevin Love and an active Artest against Ryan Gomes. Neither of the two ‘Wolves excel on defense and will have probmlems staying with both LO and Artest off the dribble and on the perimeter. Also, going into Pau is always key, but tonight I’d like to see Pau have continued success with his mid range jumper. Darko is a solid low post defender and Pau may have issues banging with him on the block. So, I’d instead like to see Pau take Milicic out to the mid post where he can turn and face and then either shoot his short jumper or attack him off the dribble.
On defense, the Timberwolves’ only major offensive threat is Jefferson so if he misses tonight’s game the Lakers defensive schemes will not be as heavily tested. That said, the ‘Wolves still have some strengths that will need to be accounted for. Mainly, I’m talking about low post scoring and offensive rebounding. Both Love and Milicic are capable scorers on the low block and both are also very good offensive rebounders. And considering that Minnesota is such a poor shooting team, there will be many chances for them to grab their own misses. If the Lakers can limit them to one shot, this game will be a lot easier.
When marking Love, he is great at using his wide body to back down defenders and then using a step back or fadeaway jumper to score inside. Love is also a capable shooter all the way out to the three point line so he’s not a player that can be left alone out there (I’m looking at you Odom). As for Darko, he’s a player that relies heavily on his jumphook and he will take it with both hands and from both sides of the block. Pau/Mbenga/Powell must fight him for position and make him go to the middle of the floor where he can’t rely on the window to cushion his shots.
Also understand that Minnesota plays at the third fastest pace in the league, which places them ahead of Phoenix and Denver. This team wants to run and take advantage of the athletes that they have on their roster. On the second night of a back to back, transition defense will be key and the Lakers must make a concerted effort to slow the ball in transition to allow everyone else to get back and set up the half court defense.
We all understand that this should be a win. The last time the Lakers faced this team, it litterally only took 20 minutes of playing hard to secure a win. But in that game, Minnesota kept the game close and made a couple of good runs (especially in the third quarter after Bynum strained his achilles) that had some folks wondering if the game would go down to the wire. Let’s not allow that to be the case this evening. Understanding that there are factors (mentioned above) that could keep this game tight does not mean that it must be. The Lakers, even without Kobe and Bynum are better than this team. By a lot. Let’s go out and get the win that secures the #1 seed in the West.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time in the west on KCAL. Also on ESPN Radio 710am.