Preview and Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Darius Soriano —  November 19, 2010

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Records: Lakers 10-2 (3rd in West), Timberwolves 4-9 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.3 (1st in NBA), Timberwolves 101.6 (27th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.5 (19th in NBA), Timberwolves 110.4 (26th 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), Theo Ratliff (out); Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn (out), Martell Webster (out), Nikola Pelovic (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  Two straight wins and some strong, professional play is what’s been presented so far this road trip.  The Lakers poured it on late against the Bucks and early against Pistons and the team has seemingly bounced back from last week’s mishaps against the Suns and Nuggets. 

Minutes played by the front court continue to be a concern and before Wednesday’s game, Phil Jackson specifically referenced Gasol’s heavy load as a worry moving forward.  Games like the one against Detroit (where Pau only played 33 minutes) will help ease Pau’s burden, but getting another big to soak up some minutes is still a front burner issue.  As we’ve mentioned, don’t expect a flashy signing but rather the type of guy that will practice hard, play when needed, and be happy with an unguaranteed deal that will quickly be voided when Bynum returns. (So, sorry Dampier supporters.  That description doesn’t fit the still unsigned big man.)

On a side, but related note, Bynum’s potential return date is now listed as sometime around the middle of December.  If you hadn’t noticed, that’s a bit of a delay from the original timeline put out by the team.  Just as we mentioned yesterday, when it comes to Bynum no timeline is really accurate and I think we should all operate under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mantra.  Again, when he’s back, he’s back.  Until then the Lakers will have to find ways to make it work.  If that means signing another big or playing Caracter through the typical ups and downs of a rookie big man, so be it.  This team still takes the long term view on most things and this should be no different.

The Timberwolves Coming in:  It was only 10 days ago that these Wolves faced the Lakers and in the time since that match up this team is playing well.  They’re 3-2 in that stretch and even in their losses they’ve played much better ball.  They’ve scored over a 100 points in all 5 contests and they’re really getting inspired performances from some of their guys – especially Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. 

In the last 4 games, Love has been outright beastly as he’s averaged a shade over 24 points and nearly 18 rebounds each night.  And in that run he had an amazing 31 point, 31 rebound effort against the Knicks that, needless to say, was a game for the ages as no player had put up a 30/30 game since Moses Malone.  Pretty good company there.  Then there’s Beasley who is finding his groove as a go to scorer and starting to fulfill his potential as the guy taken #2 in his draft class as a dynamic scorer and rebounder.  In Beasley’s last 5 games he’s not been below 25 points once and has put up 30 or more three times, including a high of 42.  His rebounding is still only average, but that’s to be somewhat expected when he’s playing SF and is sharing the front court with a rebounding machine in Kevin Love.

Overall this team is one that, while not quite on the rise, is getting back to a competitive level that’s been absent for the past several years.  If they continue to improve they’ll surely win more games but maybe even more important can potentially be that “tough out” team that no one really likes to face.  They’re not there yet, but they’re inching in that direction.  And once they do get there, confidence will come and that’s when the wins will follow.  They’re definitely building something and for that I give them credit.  Yes, even Kaaaaahhhhhhhn.

Timberwolves Blogs:  A Wolf Among Wolves is putting up great work everyday.  Between Benjamin Polk, Zach Harper, and Myles Brown it’s doubtful there’s better content on the ‘Wolves anywhere.

Keys to game:  So far I’ve mentioned that the Wolves are playing much better and that the Lakers are playing strong, professional basketball.  Despite all that, let’s just say I have my concerns about this game.  This is the third game in four nights and the last game of a road trip.  And while the ‘Wolves are playing better, they’re still a team that the Lakers could easily look past.  So, be forewarned that a slug-fest may be on the docket tonight.

If the Lakers are to avoid that scenario, playing hard would be the first step but playing smart is a close second.  Taking care of the ball and attacking with a focused, disciplined offensive approach will go a long way towards the Lakers starters icing their knees in the fourth quarter rather than looking to put the game on ice with FT’s in the closing minutes.

First and foremost that means a patient and deliberate attack from Kobe.  Ten days ago Kobe decided he would try to beat the Wolves mostly on his own early and it led to a night where he more than doubled any of his teammate’s shot attempts.  Tonight there should be better ball and shot distribution in order to capitalize on all the Lakers’ match up advantages and not just the one that Kobe has.  Get the ball inside to Pau against Darko and to Odom at the top of the circle and mid post against Kevin Love so both bigs can go to work.  If Kobe deems having the ball in his hands is necessary, he can run some P&R or back down his man from the mid-post but I’d like to see him be a willing passer in those situations rather than looking for his shot first. 

Defensively, there are two keys tonight: get back in transition and control the defensive glass.  Minnesota really tried to push the pace in the last match up and got up 92 shots (to the Lakers 89) even though they had 25 turnovers on the evening.  Those quick shots led to long rebounds that the Wolves turned into second and third possessions when they hauled in 26(!) offensive rebounds.  The third defensive key for the Lakers is simply caring more by paying closer attention to detail.  That means closing out on shooters and not giving up such easy penetration to Minnesota’s guards and wings.  In the last game the Lakers allowed too many driving lanes which then forced big men to help thus weakening their defensive rebounding. 

I can’t say this enough, but tonight’s game is one where the Wolves will be looking to get the win they didn’t 10 days ago and if the Lakers are lax in effort they just may get it.  However, if the Lakers that played the Pistons show up, this game could be over by the time the 3rd quarter begins.  The choice is theirs.  Let’s hope they make the right one. 

Where you can watch: 5pm start time out West on KCAL.  Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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