Los Angeles Lakers (11-9) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 87-79 vs San Antonio, Los Angeles: L, 100-89 vs Milwaukee
The Timberwolves beat the Spurs on Friday at the Target Center, winning against Dallas and San Antonio in consecutive games for the second time this season. Minnesota’s balanced scoring attack kept the venerable Spurs at bay. Kevin Love had 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Rubio chipped in 18 points and 10 assists.
The Lakers have been struggling lately, dropping another bad loss yesterday to the Bucks. Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, but needed 21 shots to do it. Pau Gasol struggled as well, shooting 6-18 from the field and failing to get to the free throw line. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would miss them.
The Key Questions
#1. Will the Lakers struggle on the road against Minnesota?
Los Angeles is 1-7 on the road so far this year. Plus, this is the second night of a back to back, and the Lakers lost a demoralizing game to the Bucks last night. Kobe played 42 minutes, Pau played 39, and Andrew Bynum played 36. The Wolves should attempt to push the pace against a Lakers team that is likely to be gassed.
#2. Are the healthy Wolves a dangerous team?
It sure seems that way. As more and more players come back from injuries, the Wolves seem to get more and more dangerous, especially on offense. Martell Webster’s return should add some needed three point shooting. Beasley’s shot creation is now back (as is his inattention on defense, but I’m trying to stay positive). Add that to Pek’s productive minutes (probably not something we can count on every night) and Wes Johnson’s newfound aggression on offense (probably not something we can count on every night, either) and the Wolves…well. The Wolves might be considered a legitimately good team.
#3. When was the last time the Timberwolves were favored over the Lakers?
No, seriously. Look for yourself.
The Key Matchups
Kevin Love and Pau Gasol have battled each other well in the past. But Lamar Odom was the Laker who used to give Love the biggest fits, and he’s gone this year. In his place, the Lakers have a trade exception. The trade exception has been playing well so far (0 ppg in 0 minutes), but there’s little doubt the Lakers miss Odom’s production.
Kobe will get his points, even if he takes 30 shots to do it. It will probably be up to Wes Johnson to make sure that he does. Ruh roh.
Andrew Bynum scares me. He’s huge, he’s volatile (someone hide Barea…), and he’s talented. He’s probably going to give Darko fits, although Darko is the one Timberwolf with enough length to bother the enormous Lakers.
Minnesota’s biggest advantage should be from the bench. The Lakers have several players who can contribute baskets every once in a while (Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, etc.) but none aside from the big three who can score regularly. This is a bad offensive team. The Wolves, however, can bring offense off the bench at any time, especially considering the open looks Rubio can create. The Minnesota bench will need to badly outscore the Lakers tonight.
I hate to be a jinx, so start knocking on wood immediately, but I really like Minnesota in this game. The Wolves youth and athleticism should go a long way agains the road-weary Lakers. And for the first time in several years, Los Angeles is having trouble scoring. Their defense has been good (7th in the league in opponents ppg), but teams need to score to win. As long as Kobe doesn’t score 80, I could very well see Minnesota winning this one.
Game starts at 6 pm on Fox Sports North.