Records: Lakers 42-19 (3rd in West), T’Wolves 14-46 (15th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (2nd in NBA), T’Wolves 104.8 (24th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (10th in NBA), T’Wolves 110.9 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T’Wolves: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); T’Wolves:Martell Webster (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: Simply put, the Lakers are rolling right now. Not every win has been pretty and, to be blunt, some have been outright difficult with the victory looking unlikely at various points in the game. But the team has been focused and showed a resiliency that’s been lacking at previous points in the year. If that single mindedness can extend through the rest of the regular season, I’ll be happy even with the occasional loss that’s sure to come. Because even with a loss here and there, this team is showing that they will be a tough out in the post-season and that, for me, is what I’ve been looking for throughout all the ups and downs this year. The fact that they’re starting to show it in this final stretch to the regular season encourages me to no end.
The T’Wolves Coming in: The Wolves continue to struggle. Before their win over the Warriors on Sunday they’d lost 7 consecutive games against only so-so competition. While Kevin Love continues to put up the numbers that got him into the all-star game (he had another 20/20 game against the Dubs), the rest of his team shows its inconsistency nightly and the results are a bottom of the league offense and defense and a mish-mash of talent that doesn’t seem to add up to an actual team.
Meanwhile, GM David Kahn continues to add pieces that look good on paper but will still need time to bear any fruit. At the trade deadline they dealt for versatile former lottery pick Anthony Randolph (as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal) and gave up Corey Brewer in the process. Randolph, like Darko and Beasley and Martell Webster offers a prospect that has talent but hasn’t been able to summon it on a consistent basis to actually postively impact a team. And while I think this was a risk worth taking I wonder if Kahn will ever truly build a team rather than stocking up on other teams’ throwaway talents that didn’t perform. I mean, at some point a team must be constructed and so far I don’t see it. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong in a year or two, but I have my doubts.
T’Wolves Blogs: A Wolf Among Wolves provides great content daily. Give ‘em a visit to get the skinny on this team.
Keys to game:That focus and single mindedness I mentioned earlier will need to be on full display this game for the Lakers if they hope to take of this team the way that they should. I mean, considering the talent disparity and the current level of play both teams have shown the Lakers should win in a walk. But, many times this season the Lakers haven’t brought that full attention to detail in games like these and it’s cost them.
To avoid that tonight, the Lakers must play smart and to their strengths. Offensively that means attacking Kevin Love. Love may be the rebounding wunderkind but he’s quite bad at defending his man in one on one situations. Gasol should get plenty of chances to feast on the undersized PF with touches on the low block and short wing, where he can work in isolation. If Pau shows aggression, he could easily have 15-20 points by halftime just by stroking his jumper and then using his first step and height to get off shots inside of 8 feet.
I’d also like to see Bynum get involved tonight since he’s been absent in the previous match ups between these two teams. Bynum’s match up with Darko is a bit trickier in that Darko posesses good strength (anyone that can do this is pretty strong) and also shows good timing in blocking shots. That said, Bynum is bigger and longer than Darko and I’d love to see him fight for position and pin Darko deep in the post where easy shots are available.
As for Kobe, I’d really like to see him work off the ball more tonight. He’ll likely be guarded by Wesley Johnson who has good length and has bothered Kobe a bit in the early games when they’ve faced off. Make the rook work by running him off the ball and then flashing to open space within the offense. I guarantee Kobe will get better looks this way than if he isolates on the wing.
Defensively, controlling the glass and the pace of the game will be key. We all know that Kevin Love is a beast on the boards and must be accounted for at all times. He shows rare instincts in moving to the ball when the shot is in the air and if his defender is flat-footed he will be outworked for the rebound. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom will all need to be aggressive in marking Love, and even if they just keep him away from the ball without grabbing the board themselves, they’ll have done a good job.
As for the tempo, the Wolves play at the fastest pace in the league. That’s right–Phoenix, Denver, and Golden State all play slower than the Wolves. The Lakers need to understand this and get back defensively so as to not give up easy baskets in transition. Beasley, Johnson, Ridnour, and Telfair all enjoy getting out in the open court and Kevin Love is great spotting up for jumpers as the trail man after the ball is pushed up. The Lakers must sprint back and find their man.
On an individual level, I’m interested in once again watching Ron go to work against Beasley in the half court. After the last game between these two, Ron had some not so kind words about Beasley’s offensive versatility. Whether that was gamesmanship or just an honest critique matters not one bit, considering Beasley surely remembers and will be looking to put up some points on the Lakers’ defensive stopper. Remember, Beasley is a lefty that is good finishing going to his strong hand but is also adept at going to his right to shoot his pull up jumper from the elbow. Ron will have to deal with him in space and isolation situations so it’d be nice if he remembered his opponent’s tendencies.
This is a game the Lakers should win. “Should” is different than “will,” though. If the Lakers truly have turned the corner in taking these last 20 games seriously, we’ll see the corresponding effort for most of this contest and at some point they’ll impose their will and pull away (even if that means a 6-8 point run that closes the door). This is what I’m hoping to see. I don’t care about style points, only W’s. Lets get this one tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time out West on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.