Preview and Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Darius Soriano —  February 28, 2013

Records: Lakers 28-30 (9th in the West), Timberwolves 20-34 (12th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (8th in the NBA), Timberwolves 99.9 (24th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (T 16th in the NBA), Timberwolves 102.5 (T 12th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Timberwolves: Kevin Love (out), Chase Budinger (out), Malcom Lee (out for the season), Brandon Roy (out), Andrei Kirilenko (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Some nights the Lakers win even when they don’t play. Such was the case last night when the Warriors, Jazz, and Rockets all lost while the Lakers were idle. Picking up a half game in the standings on the three teams directly ahead of them in the standings was a nice gift and is something the Lakers will need to capitalize on tonight versus the T’Wolves.

The Lakers seem to understand that what’s most important is what they can control and are embracing the challenge in front of them. Kobe talks about the team being more on edge in trying to turn their season around while Nash and Howard are trying to enjoy the moment and have fun in their pursuit. Whatever the mindset, it’s clear that the Lakers know what they have to do and seem intent on getting it done. Of course they’ll need help, but the only way that the help even matters is if they also help themselves.

In other news, Pau Gasol is off crutches, is no longer limping, and has been cleared to begin work on an elliptical machine as part of his rehab. It will still be weeks before he returns — at least based off the original (and unchanged to this point) timeline — but it’s good to see that he’s progressing as he should. If the Lakers can, in fact, make the push they believe they can, Gasol will be needed ingredient down the stretch of the season.

The Timberwolves Coming in: Speaking of injuries, there is not a team that’s been hit harder than the T’Wolves and their record reflects that fact. They continue to miss Kevin Love and, with Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy still out (with Roy not likely to return this season), that’s 3 of their top 8 players (including their best guy) missing for most of the season. Lately, Andrei Kirilenko has also been banged up and, after playing only 10 minutes against the Suns on Tuesday, he’s questionable for tonight’s game.

With all the injuries, T’Wolves have lost 3 games in a row, 8 of their last 10, and 12 of their last 15. They simply don’t have the talent to compete each night and the players they do have on their roster are lacking the complementary skills to make defenses pay when their remaining impact players compromise their defender. Over time, this should improve, but it’s truly been a lost season for Rick Adelman’s group and, while it’s easy to say “those are the breaks”, Lakers’ fans should be all too familiar with how injuries can derail what looked to be a promising season.

So, even though there are some bright spots — Derrick Williams is growing and starting to show more of the talent that made him a #2 overall pick; Alexey Shved is having a promising rookie campaign; Pekovic has turned into one of the games better Centers; Ricky Rubio is still making dazzling plays as he works his way back from a torn ACL — it’s just not enough right now.

Timberwolves Blogs: A Wolf Among Wolves is a great site that’s worth your time. Check them out.

Keys to game: The T’Wolves are shorthanded and playing on the road where they’re only 7-20 on the season. There’s a chance Kirilenko won’t play and it will only challenge their suspect depth more if he’s forced to sit out. Meanwhile the Lakers, Nuggets game excluded, have been playing some good ball lately and are much better team at home.

These factors imply that the Wolves are in a bit of trouble tonight. That said, the Lakers still need to come out and execute their game plan and not just rely on their talent to get them by.

Offensively, the Lakers need to find ways to get Dwight Howard going against Pekovic. Few players are stronger than big Pek, but Dwight surely has a speed and quickness advantage that can be exploited if he, and his mates, work to make it so. Dwight needs to run the floor and look for early post up chances and also work hard in the P&R to set good screens and then explode into the lane. Dwight has not been rolling as well to the rim lately and that’s limited his offensive chances. If he can change that tonight, he’ll find himself open in the paint. Dwight would also be best served not trying to bang with Pekovic in the post, but instead using his good first step to get his shoulder by him and finish over the top with hook shots from either hand. Pek is not a leaper and if Dwight can get some elevation, he should be able to get shots off cleanly if he attacks quickly.

Lately the Lakers have been going to the P&R more often to set up their offense, but this game is a good one to re-establish Kobe in the post. The Wolves start two small-ish guards and that spells trouble for trying to slow down #24. In the last game Adelman let Ridnour take his chances against Kobe, a decision that worked out well for the Lakers. If the Wolves go in that same direction tonight, Kobe working out of the post on a cleared side would allow him to create shots for himself or teammates — especially if the double team comes (and it will come eventually). Lately, Kobe has found a pretty good balance between looking for his own shot and moving the ball on to open teammates and this game, with these match ups, should allow that trend to continue.

Defensively, the Lakers must concern themselves with two major variables: tempo and Minnesota’s P&R. The Wolves aren’t an incredibly fast team, but they do play at the league’s 11 quickest pace and will look to run out on the Lakers. Starting two natural PG’s allows them to push the ball at a moment’s notice and the Lakers must make sure to change ends well in transition. This has, of course, is nothing new for the Lakers but considering it’s one of the few ways the Wolves can get enough points to hang tonight, they better be ready for it.

As for the pick and roll, the Wolves have multiple players who can initiate this action and the Lakers must be prepared for all the variances of it that they’ll see tonight. In Rubio, Ridnour, and Shved there are countless ways this set will be deployed including staring the action on one side of the floor only to swing  the ball and then run a secondary P&R with the other guard who’s camped on the weak side. Rotations will need to be sharp and the wings will need to be aware of their responsibilities as they shift between being the strong and weak side defender when the P&R is deployed. Also important will be the “big” man who guards Derrick Williams as he has the ability to stretch the floor but will also sneak back side for lobs if his man turns his head for too long. So, whether it’s Earl Clark or Ron who draws Williams, their awareness will need to be high tonight.

Overall, this is a game that the Lakers should win, but after a season of false starts, resets, and poor performances there are no gimmes. The team has had a better focus since the all-star break and they’ll need that to continue in this game. They mustn’t overlook the Wolves. They too are an NBA team with good players and pride to get a win. The Lakers need to be ready for a strong effort from them, strike first, and carry over that aggression throughout the entire game.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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69 responses to Preview and Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

  1. Stars are aligned for a a change for the Lakers, 6,7 and 8 seed lost their games, this is a golden oportunity a win here will put us 4 and a half from 6th seed i mention the 6th because a win tonight will put us on striking distance to be able to climb that high, we just need to keep winning games, one of those 3 teams will fold, that loss in Denver i will fill it under the crap happens file lol. We must win tonight i dont care if it is by one or by 50, it dont matter at this point.

  2. darius: one step forward, zero steps back. with essentially two days off from that low of a high from denver, refreshed and knowing going in will mark a chance to gain ground on both houston and utah and whoever else is out there ahead of the lakers in the western conference flight to our first goal, conference playoffs.

    i hate when i have to yell out django for any loss through the end of the regular season. the d was silent in transition and what are we, last in the league in that category? like all the others; timberwolves will make a game of it considering they are aware of this weakness until we express our grind it out will and methodically wear down our opponents starting with the word: timber…..

    victory should be ours tonite versus them wolves from the timbers of minnesota.

    Go Lakers.

  3. Kobe Alert: We are in a little bit of a slow period for the Kobe Alert, because KB has climbed so high on many of the lists that it takes a while to get to the next rung on the ladder. When you are chasing guys like Wilt, Kareem, Moses, and Hakeem, then it takes a while to catch them. It is kind of like Soccer – players with one name are good. So in lieu of any all time lists, I will present the following: For 7 straight years Kobe has done one or more of the following: Been the Finals MVP, Been the Scoring Leader, Won an Olympic Gold, Won the ASG MVP Award, or been the League MVP. Might be tough to keep this streak alive, however there is still hope. He is 363 from #13.

  4. Seeing as there will be many “must” games as Neil points out. We all have two choices. You can either
    A) Root for the team until mathematically eliminated or they lose 4 in the playoffs.
    B) At any point in time you can declare something like: “I am done with this team for this year”

    My only caveat to selection “B” is that it is a final decision, and that it can only be done once. We will hereby grant amnesty to those who have already done this multiple times. So starting now – OK? : )

  5. Bottom line: Lakers need the win and should win. They are at home and have beat the T’Wolves 20 straight times. If the Lakers poor free throw shooting &/or high rate of turnovers are kept in check, this s/b a “w”.

  6. Rusty Shackleford February 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Shoot the 3 Nash!!!

    Stinkin’ Petkovich. That dude makes his living off that high motor. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up next season. I don’t see Minny matching any offers that you’d expect this guy to get. I don’t think the Lakers need him because they will have Jordan Hill back next year.

  7. I just want to second the mention of A Wolf Among Wolves – absolute first-class writing and one of my favorite sites for a long time.

  8. A bit off topic but NOah is freaking insane right now SMH!

  9. With all due respect to Darius & Crew, considering the fact that this is a Wolves Team that we have dominated on the reg, hopefully there’s not an abundance of comments tonight. Which, to the constants within the FB&G Community, would mean one thing. :-)

  10. +1 that the Lakers absolutely have to win tonight. Houston, GSW and Utah all lost their last game, with both Utah and Houston losing to very beatable teams.

    GSW are in such a free fall right now that they are becoming a legitimate target to ctach, maybe more so than the Jazz.

  11. Holy crap! Noah with the stat line of the year so far. Triple double with blocks and 21 rebounds!? Beast mode engaged.

  12. Wow what a dunk by Kobe!

  13. Kobe with the slam dunk. WOW

  14. Damnnnnn that was a sweet pass by Rubio

  15. How is meeks a 3 point specialist? hes too inconsistent.

  16. Why does this coach only play Dwight 8 minutes in 1st quarter after 3 days off? Jam can’t guard Pek. Took 10 point lead and turned it into tie in 3 minutes.

  17. Jodie Meeks at any price next year is too expensive. Please decline that option. The guy is awful.

  18. Rubio is the real deal i remember the gold medal game in beijing and he was like what 18? They stole the ball and he made this sweet sweet no look pass to Pau for the dunk, my jaw dropped, he is like 22 y/o version of Nash, i drool like Homer Simpson imagining him in the blue and gold lol, love his game.

  19. … but in the off season Meeks was the rage, a “must have” for the Lakers.

  20. Ken because we are shorthanded in bigs, he is going to be there at the start of the second, the last thing we need is a dumb foul

  21. Really low energy tonight–the team, the crowd–everyone.

    Even the Wolves seem like they are sleepwalking–thank God, because LA isn’t showing much “oomph” tonight…

  22. For all the crap being talked about Meeks i like him, he is shooting like 38% from 3 what i hate is his penetrations his role is to spot up for 3 and thats it, scrappy undersized defender .

  23. Why is Meeks playing.

    On the team?

    In the league?

  24. Ricky Rubio guarding Kobe should go to trial as a crime against humanity lol.

  25. Why can’t D’Anotni swallow some pride and give Dwight straight up post touches instead of these bunk swing back around touches? He’s always the last option on most sets should be the other way around. Dwight should get rewarded for all the of ball work he does.

  26. mindcrime: Saying the Staples Center crowd has low energy is like saying the Pacific Ocean is large. I mean it does appear to vary slightly with the tides, but in reality it is what it is.

  27. Lakers aren’t playing “bad” per se but they need to be blowing out teams like Minny to save their legs. They seem to be toying with them now. I wish they would turn it up for a quarter and blow it open.

  28. Fern

    Meeks is like a relief pitcher. Has only one job. Stand wide open and make a simple 3 point shot. He can’t do anything else and should be shooting much better as open as he is.

  29. Kobe just gave the Mike Brown ‘death stare’ to the rim after missing that FT

  30. Whoo. We “held” a team below 50 for the first half!

  31. Chris Duhon is showing good bench energy given that he went from playing major minutes (and generally doing an okay job) to playing zero minutes and relegated to cheerleader in favour of giving all the sub minutes to Blake (who has played okay but has not exactly grabbed it by the throat).

  32. Robert: I’m familiar with the Staples indifference–but it’s about three notches higher (or maybe “lower” is the right word) tonight.

  33. Excellent 1st half for Kobe in regards to attacking the rim against this undersized Wolves team.

    Kevin, you’re absolutely correct in your opinion that Dwight is being under-utilized on the offensive end of the court. Especially tonight with Pekovic being forced to the sideline.

    True indeed Paul L. We need to turn it up on them in the 2nd half.

  34. Dwight still seems to struggle making himself “big” on offense in the post. As others have said, he should be featuring tonight, but his post up game still needs work. A few nice moments so far though.

  35. It’s like Metta is invisible on D and O. Where is his head at? China!

  36. Ken did i said something different? No i did not like i mentioned i hate hate hate when he puts the ball on the floor , but he is a good defender even undersized and we all know his 3 point % suffered early on the season under Brown’s mess he is a streaky shooter and a horrible penetrator but he has proven a number of times he can help, and btw i think MDA is doing a good job now that he have a better grasp of the team. Im tired of reading from people that unless the Lakers are winning by 175 points it sucks

  37. It’s sad watching Nash run around screens on defense. He isn’t creating on offense tonight either.

  38. Is there a worse defender in the NBA then Steve? Season highs who ever he try’s to guard.

    Worst FT % in the NBA. What a joke.

  39. Dumping the ball down low to Dwight is *not* the answer. I’m all for getting him involved offensively, but his post game took a huge hit with the back injury. He just doesn’t have that athleticism that he depended on with his limited moves.

  40. How do you have a top center yet shoot 3 pointer after 3 pointer etc. They need to wake up before the blow this game. Nice coaching.

  41. Ken,
    Nash is getting run off multiple picks on every possession and no Laker is hedging out to help him — especially when he’s playing off the ball. I’m not saying Nash is a great defender, but a lot of these baskets you say he’s giving up are the product of team defense, not what he’s giving up in isolation.

  42. Jamison has become the Lakers 4th best player.

    Remember when he didn’t play a second for 6 straight games?

    Odd.

  43. Ty Darius i we are seeing the same game, up by 15 but hey whinning knows no score

  44. Kobe with another milestone, 1,800 career steals, the 15th player in NBA history to accomplish that.

  45. KenOak: come playoff time playing this style Lakers will get sweep by Okc or SA, unless Lakers get white hot. The way they played vs okc at staples and at Miami is what they should be trying to perfect.

  46. Ken:

    Minnesota is so undersized they are playing a zone—and a particularly saggy, pack-the-paint style zone at that. They are selling out to keep Dwight from killing them. When that happens, you have to take what the “D” gives you–which right now is tons of wide open perimeter shots.

  47. D

    Sure your right about Nash. Tough to see that because I tend to watch the ball. How to you stop that because it seems to be a growing trend.

    See that Fern I told you Jody was good! 2 in a row.

  48. Ken: I must agree with you on the Jamison situation. Of course it was hard to get anyone to acknowledge this earlier in the year when I was asking why he was glued to the bench. It appears he forgot how to play over the summer, and then remembered how to play over the year end break.

  49. Riight ken lol

  50. We are so spoiled that nobody mentions mamba cheat code

  51. Lakers live and die by the 3.

    Isn’t this what we knew would happen with D’antoni?

  52. Guys

    This Minn team with so many injuries and now Pek out is by far the worst team in the league. Can’t help but still be nervous watching the Lakers who had 3 days off.

    Make a statement and win a game by 30 to build up confidence. Next 3 games are very difficult.

  53. It’s as if Meeks read some of the comments on this board @ halftime and has come out in the 2nd half to show and prove.

  54. Kevin i tend to disagree in the playoffs things slow down.

  55. Kevin_
    If DH12 was Shaq, then I would agree with you, but he’s not. He’s not dominating any of those matchups that you just mentioned. If we Play either LAC, SA, or OKC and only dump the ball into Howard, then we will get swept. Hell- even when we *did* have Shaq we had a tough time simply dumping it down to him against teams like SA. That’s why Kobe dominated those series to get us into the finals.

    Again, just to reiterate….get Howard involved? Yes. Involve him in screen/rolls and swing the ball around the perimeter to get him posts. Also, get him early post opportunities when he beats his guy down court. Dumping the ball down to him and letting him iso shouldn’t be more than 25% of his touches. IMO

  56. That didnt look like an offensive foul. and why a tech?

  57. Nice reverse layup by Steve Blake.

  58. Sweet Blake .. Sweet

  59. Ken the Lakers beat the wolves with a relatively healthy team and the lakers were without Nash on minny if im not mistaken.

  60. That 4th Q foul call on Dwight at about the 10:50 mark and the tech he got were as bad as NBA officiating gets!!

  61. Got to give him credit.

    Mike D keep saying “just wait till Steve get back”

    Of course he did mean Steve BLAKE.

    Best he has pkayed in3 years BTW.

  62. Fern, you’re right the game does slow down. A tempo that fits Kobe, Pau and Dwight well. They’re 3 of the best post players in the league.

    KenOak, Putting the championship hopes on the shoulders of Kobe, Pau and Dwight is a better one than on Meeks, Blake, Nash outside shooting.

  63. Why is Dwight in the game at the 5:30 mark?

  64. D’Antoni seems like a real jerk if he’s going to keep Ebanks on the bench tonight. Clark comes back in while Devin sits?

  65. Ebanks comes in. turns the ball over….but he makes a 3 pointer so he must shoot better than MWP.

  66. Man Ebanks got fat

  67. Much needed win in the books. Kobe senses the urgency now we usually don’t see this aggressive Kobe until late March. Dwight continues to take steps forward. Kudos to him for being humble enough to go from being the man in Orlando to Tyson chandler here in LA. Big one vs Atlanta..

  68. Ken, Robert:

    Jamison gives as much back on D as he produces on O; always has, always will. Still does. Will get torched next time the Lakers play a good team with a strong 4. The injuries to Gasol and Hill have meant more PT for Jamison and Clark, and they arguably fit around Howard better
    –but they are not better players. Never have been, never will be. MDA likes to play 8 guys. I have argued he should play 10 with this team, and Jamison should be one of them, but if you are going to second-guess everything D’Antoni did three months ago, then you also give him credit for the team’s playing better now.