Game 36 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Los Angeles Lakers (20-14) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (18-17)

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Nobody in the NBA makes funnier faces than Pau Gasol.

Nobody in the NBA makes funnier faces than Pau Gasol.

Last game: Minnesota: W, 109-97 vs Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers: L, 100-85 vs Oklahoma City

Yesterday was the prototypical Timberwolves’ game for three quarters. Time and again, when the Clippers threatened to pull away, the Wolves reeled them back. Then the fourth quarter happened and Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams both scored 13 points in the quarter and ended up with 27 while the bench scored 72 points for the game and the starters got to rest for the entire fourth quarter and seriously can someone explain to me WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!!!

The Lakers lost to the Thunder before the All-Star break. Kevin Durant dropped 33 points on Los Angeles, who struggled to contain Oklahoma City’s athleticism. But none of this matters nearly as much as what happened during the All-Star game. Kobe was fouled hard by Dwyane Wade, which broke his nose and gave him a mild concussion.

The Key Questions

#1 (Of course…) Will Kobe be cleared to play tonight?

At the moment, Kobe’s presence seems surprisingly likely. Despite all the new rules about concussions, Bryant has apparently cleared tests, and plans to play 2 on 2 this afternoon to determine if he is available. Of course, knowing Kobe Bryant, if he hasn’t lost a limb, he will probably keep playing.

This, of course, raises another interesting question: will Bryant be wearing a mask? Some players love the masks and get used to them (Richard Hamilton, for example). Others (like University of Connecticut center Andre Drummond) never get used to it and play considerably better without. A limited Bryant might actually be worse for Los Angeles than no Bryant. Limited, he is more likely to shoot them out of a game. Which brings me to…

#2. Is it possible the Lakers would be better without Kobe against the Wolves?

Heresy? Perhaps. But Kobe has a tendency to eat up Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum’s field goal attempts. And against Minnesota, Gasol and Bynum have a big advantage (literally). Gasol towers over Kevin Love, who has trouble contesting him. Bynum is much longer than Pekovic. It might be good for the Lakers to force the ball inside early and often, and with Kobe in the game, that is less likely to happen.

Unfortunately, Kobe could also come out and score 45 on Wes Johnson. Really, it’s kind of a toss-up.

#3. How did we get this far without asking something about Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley?

The best part about last night’s game against the Clippers? Clearly, the Wolves won. But the SECOND best part of last night’s game was the rest the bench bought the starters. Minnesota is in the middle of a painful back-to-back-to-back. Having a rested squad against a tough Lakers team will be huge.

The Key Matchups

We already discussed Kevin Love vs Pau Gasol. One of the more underrated subplots of tonight’s game will be what adjustments Adelman will make to contain Gasol. After Kevin Martin torched the Wolves, Adelman took a calculated risk and had Wes guard him the next time Minnesota faced Houston, leaving the smaller Ridnour on Chandler Parsons. It worked well. What Adelman does to adjust to LA’s height could determine whether the Wolves can stretch their winning streak.

Minnesota’s bench is much more talented than the LA’s. If it comes down to a battle of depth, that will bode well for the Wolves.

The Outlook

Despite all the positivity from last night, the Wolves could actually be in for their second consecutive trap game against the Lakers, as weird as that sounds. When the Lakers visited the Wolves earlier this season, Minnesota was caught complacent. It will be very important for Minnesota to come out of the gate swinging tonight, because climbing back against veterans like the Lakers will be much more difficult than against the young Clippers.

Game starts at 9:30 on Fox Sports North