Records: Lakers 7-0, Timberwolves 1-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 118.3 (1st in NBA), Timberwolves 96.4 (30th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.3 (10th in NBA), Timberwolves 113.3 (30th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Timberwolves: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out); Timberwolves:Johnny Flynn (out), Martell Webster (out), Luke Ridnour (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: At this point, there’s little to say about the Lakers besides that they’re rolling. A 7-0 start with the number one offense and a top ten defense has reminded everyone that this is a pretty good team and that maybe looking East for the eventual NBA champ – at least before the season started – was a mistake. Besides the Hornets, you’d be hard pressed to find a team that has impressed as much to start the year as the Lakers.
But rather than continue to gloat about all the things the Lakers are doing well or nit pick some of the things they could be doing better, I just want to remind everyone that as good as the Lakers look now there will be some down times ahead. This team will not go 82-0 and, at some point, will underperform in comparison to the lofty level of play they’ve displayed early this year. And when it does happen, just try to remember these opening games as they’ll serve as a gentle reminder that regardless of how bad this team can look on any given night, they’re still, you know, pretty good.
On a side note, we’ve noticed that in the past few games the roles of the Lakers’ two rookies have been reversed. Early in the year it was Ebanks that was getting burn and treating the crowd to some above the rim action. However, since Luke Walton returned Ebanks has been inactive and Derrick Caracter has suited up and gotten some playing time in Phil’s big man rotation. Recently Phil said that once Bynum is back, both rooks will likely be inactive and could see some time in the D-League. For more on this topic, you can go over to the great site D-League Digest and read up on what this means for the rookies.
The Timberwolves Coming in: There aren’t too many positives to discuss when it comes to the ‘Wolves. If the Lakers are at the top end of the spectrum of NBA teams, the ‘Wolves are on the complete opposite end. They’re 1-6 and are last in offensive AND defensive efficiency – which is quite a feat. Their roster lacks quality depth and a couple of their better players (Flynn and Webster) are out injured. Their best player – Kevin Love – doesn’t seem to get along with the head coach and only plays 27 minutes a game even though he’s averaging a double-double. I don’t want to pile on, but this franchise is a mess from the top down and I’m unsure what could turn it around, save for a complete house cleaning. When looking at their team stats, the one thing they do do well is rebound, so they’ve got that going for them. Normally I try to find a few things to bring up that can paint a team in a positive light, but in this case it’s just too hard. This team is probably the worst in the league and it seems like it could be some time before it gets any better.
Timberwolves Blogs: A Wolf Among Wolves is a great site that pumps out fantastic work all the time. You should be reading it. Go over there now (we’ll still be here when you get back). It’s that good.
Keys to game: The last time I thought the Lakers would man handle a team was this past Friday against the Raptors. What proceeded was a geeked up Raptors team that came ready to play and a Lakers team that went through the motions for most of the contest while potentially looking ahead to a better foe two days later. Tonight breaks down the same way with the ‘Wolves in town and a road game in Denver waiting on Thursday. Let’s see if the Lakers can learn from last week and dominate the game from start to finish and not get caught day dreaming about an opponent that is still 48 hours away.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, getting this win is pretty straight forward. As mentioned, the ‘Wolves don’t do much well so the Lakers should just concentrate on executing on both sides of the ball and let their superior talent carry them to a W. No need to force the ball into the player with the biggest mismatch because nearly every Laker is playing with an advantage tonight. I can’t say this enough, just run the sets. Make the correct pass then proceed to cut and screen hard. On defense, pressure when possible, don’t over-help or gamble for steals, and just play sound position defense. And since the ‘Wolves actually rebound the ball well, be sure to box out (especially on Love) to secure the ball and finish possessions.
One last note, despite the gulf in talent that exists between these two teams one thing I’ll be keeping a close eye on is if Rambis’ familiarity with the Lakers schemes leads to an ability to disrupt the Lakers’ sets. Will Rambis have his guys deny the wing entry? Will he have them half or fully front the post? Will he send double teams on the dribble after Pau and Kobe make their initial moves with the ball? These are all little things that have given the Lakers fits in the past and a coach with Rambis’ insider knowledge should know these things. It will be interesting to see how much Rambis tries to throw off the Lakers and how many wrinkles he uses to try and keep the game close. If I were him I’d be pulling out all the stops.
Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time out west on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.