Preview and Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Phillip Barnett —  March 16, 2012

Records: Lakers: 27-16 (3rd in West), Timberwolves: 22-22 (9th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers: 104.1 (17th in NBA), Timberwolves: 105.1 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers: 101.4 (10th in NBA), Timberwolves: 104.2 (15th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Timberwolves: Luke Ridnour, Martel Webster, Wesley Johnson, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Injuries: Lakers: none; Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio (Out), Michael Beasley (Questionable)

The Lakers Coming In: The Trade Deadline has come and gone, and with the deadline went Jason Kapono, Luke Walton and Derek Fisher. Both Darius and Dave shared their thoughts on dealing Fish yesterday, and without drawing this out more than they should be, I’ll just quickly add that I share many of their sentiments about Fish, and am truly sad to see him go, although I understand the implications of his departure. With Fish, Walton and Kapono gone, the Lakers will turn their focus toward the end of the season (which is rapidly approaching), with what should be a upgrade in offensive production from the point guard position in Ramon Sessions. It’s unclear whether or not Sessions will suit up for the Lakers tonight, but Sessions will soon likely get the starting minutes at point with Steve Blake coming off the bench.

The Lakers are coming off two straight overtime road wins, and have won 12 of their last 16 overall. They’re steadily improving on both ends of the floor as the season progresses, and look to nab another home win tonight.

The Timberwolves Coming In: Last Friday, the Lakers beat Minnesota and took more than just a victory from the impressive Wolves, they took their rising star in Ricky Rubio when Kobe took out his knee. Since the last meeting between the two, the Wolves have lost two of three, including a tough overtime loss in Utah last night. Minnesota let the trade deadline come and go without making any moves, which isn’t going to help for their playoff push this season, but keeping their core intact is likely the best move for them looking ahead. The Wolves were in talks with the Blazers and the Lakers for a deal that would have sent Jamal Crawford to Minnesota and Michael Beasley to the Lakers. Obviously things never materialized, but that was as close as the Wolves got to making a deal before the deadline.

Timberwolves Blogs: Make sure you check out A Wolf Among Wolves. Ben Polk, Zach Harper and Myles Brown do a great job proving all the Wolves analysis you can handle.

Keys to the Game: The last two times these teams played, Kevin Love was out either sick or nursing an injury. Tonight, the Lakers will not have the luxury of not having to box Love out, but will have to dominate on the boards to win tonight. The Lakers had a +15 rebound advantage in the previous two games combined, and will have to find a way to continue this trend despite the magnetic  force field that sends all rebounds to wherever Love is on the floor.

To do this, the Lakers are going to need to go into Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum early and often, eliminating the number of long jumpers and the time either Pau or Bynum would otherwise spend away from the rim. This not only puts them in position for high percentage shots, but it puts the best rebounders in prime position for offensive rebounds. Defensively, the Lakers are going to have to work to box out. Not only Love, but Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams can kill the Lakers on the boards if it becomes a matter of effort.

Other than rebounding, closing out on shooters is going to be huge for the Lakers tonight. They have a number of guys who aren’t afraid to pull the trigger from three, and when you’re overmatched, the three pointer is a great equalizer. In the three-point victory, the Wolves shot 40 percent from behind the arc, while in the 19-point win, the Wolves shot 26 percent from behind the arc. If you can keep this Timberwolves team from dominating the glass and can  run their shooters off the three point line, you have a great shot at not only winning, but putting them away early.

Where You Can Watch: 7:30 p.m. start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Phillip Barnett