The Lakers open their season against one the few teams who have been as bad as they have recently. While the Lakers have won 48 games over the last two seasons, the ‘Wolves have been nearly as bad with 56 wins over that same period. Though, to be fair, 40 of those wins did come in the 2013-14 season which saw Kevin Love put up video game numbers.
Of course, Love is now a Cavalier. And Andrew Wiggins, the fruits of the Love trade, is a T’Wolf. He joins #1 overall pick from this June’s draft, Karl Anthony-Towns, to form what Minnesota fans hope is the inside/outside tandem that will dominate the league for years to come. The Wolves also sport lottery picks Zach LaVine and Shabbaz Muhammad as well as Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio (questionable), and Nikola Pekovic (doubtful) as core players.
With this group of elite youth and young veterans, the Wolves are a team on the rise. Add in veterans Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller and this is the type of roster construction Lakers’ fans should be quite familiar with. In fact, in a way, tonight’s game offers a bit of a look in the mirror for two organizations who hope to take some major strides forward this year. Sort of fitting considering the Lakers hail from where the ‘Wolves now call home.
The similarities in roster construction make for an interesting set of match-ups and story-lines.
Crazy that in LAL's 1st game of the year, you'll have the #1 & #2 overall picks AND Kobe/KG in their 20th & 21st seasons facing off.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) August 13, 2015
Hard to decide what the bigger story here really is, right? It’s rare we’d have the top two overall picks from the most recent draft squaring off on opening night. Even rarer, though, has to be two hall of famers in their 21st and 20th seasons sharing the court and doing battle in the same game. If this was all the game offered, it would be enough to keep me entertained. But there’s more in the form of actual on-the-court matchups which intrigue.
Last season Andrew Wiggins noted that his toughest match up came against Kobe. If you recall, in the first game between the Lakers and ‘Wolves, Kobe made it a personal challenge to attack Wiggins every possession, working over the rookie with his full arsenal of offensive moves. By the time the game was over Kobe had scored 26 points on 10-18 shooting and gone to the foul line 10 times. Tonight, then, I am interested in seeing if the old dog has any more tricks to pull out or whether the rising Wiggins will impose his physical gifts instead.
I am also interested in seeing how the Julius Randle vs. Garnett battle plays out. KG has been slowed by age, but his defensive smarts remain unmatched. Combine this high IQ with his still excellent length and instincts and Randle will need to use all his strength and craftiness to get buckets against KG.
Beyond these individual match ups, the battle of the benches will be key in deciding this game. The Lakers bring a fair amount of firepower off their bench — especially on the wing with Young and Williams. The Wolves don’t offer the experience in their wing duo, but LaVine and Muhammad can both get buckets in their own way. The latter can be a bull in the post and hit from the mid-range on in with his jumper. LaVine, meanwhile, is best known for his dunking but can get hot from behind the arc when his man goes under screens in the high P&R. Whichever bench duo does the most with their touches likely tilts the game in their team’s favor.
At this point I should add what I expect to see on both sides of the ball, but in all honesty I think there’s going to be a fair amount of sloppiness from both teams. With this being the first game, the sure anxiousness which comes with it, and the feeling out process both teams will go through with each other I don’t expect there to be much of a collective rhythm. Sure, one or two guys may find their stride early, but I expect broken action via suspect turnovers and missed shots from a lot of the guys.
And, really, I’m fine with that. This is game one of 82. There will be time to work out the kinks, time to sort out the issues. From the Lakers’ side, then, don’t get too concerned if player X doesn’t look very good or if things go poorly for a long stretch. Yes, a win would be preferred, but the process of what this team will become starts today, it doesn’t finish.
With that, enjoy the game as best you can. Simply with the Lakers being back in action for a game that counts, I know I will.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and ESPN. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.