Los Angeles Lakers (27-16) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (22-22)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 111-105 vs Utah in OT, Los Angeles: W, 107-101 vs New Orleans in OT
The Wolves enter tonight’s matchup with the Lakers coming off a frustrating overtime loss to the Jazz. Utah led for most of the game until the Wolves battled back with under two minutes to play, sending the game into overtime. But Paul Millsap’s energetic defense and mid-range shooting held off the Wolves, as they fell back to .500.
The Lakers also trailed for much of the game against New Orleans on Wednesday before overwhelming the Hornets in overtime. Kobe led the Lakers with 33 points, while Bynum posted 25 points and 18 rebounds.
The Key Questions
#1. Will Kevin Love’s thumb be an issue tonight?
Love has said that his thumb is fine and he expects to play. Which is good, because he missed the last two meetings with the Lakers. On a related note, Minnesota lost both games (as well as 16 consecutive matchups with the Lakers previously, but I digress).
#2. With about 20 games left in the season, what kind of playoff implications does tonight carry?
For the Lakers? Next to none. They have built a 2.5 game lead over the suddenly free-falling Clippers and have positioned themselves to make a run at San Antonio and the second seed.
For the Wolves? Tonight is a fairly significant game. Denver, who holds a two game lead on Minnesota, is inactive. Interestingly, Denver more than likely damaged their chances at a playoff run by trading away Nene for the eternally frustrating JaVale McGee.
Still. To make the playoffs, Minnesota needs to win some games, and falling more than two games out of the race would be difficult to overcome with less than a third of the season left to go.
#3. Will the Lakers struggle without Fisher?
This question is less about tonight’s game and more about the rest of the season. For years, Fisher has been less than stellar as LA’s point guard, but he has been a rock for the team and an emotional leader. How much of that did the Lakers trade away for Jordan Hill?
The Key Matchups
Tonight may well prove to be all about the post matchups. One night after “struggling” with Paul Millsap (he still had 25 points and 16 rebounds…) Kevin Love gets a tougher, longer matchup problem in Pau Gasol. Gasol’s length will hurt Love in the post, so his ability to stretch Gasol out to the three point line will be important tonight. If Love can knock down some early threes, the Wolves may find themselves more open in the paint.
Meanwhile, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is used to being able to push opponents around in the post. Best of luck with that tonight, ‘Drew.
As always, Kobe will be a huge problem for the Wolves. Wes/Ridnour/Ellington have all proved fairly ineffective against him this season, although Ridnour showed some aggressiveness getting up in Kobe’s face in the last matchup.
Speaking of Ridnour, if the Lakers are without Ramon Sessions, Ridnour will need to capitialize on Laker rookie Andrew Goudelock’s extended minutes.
On paper, the Lakers are a matchup nightmare for the Wolves, especially now that Rubio is out for the season. But man…this would be a nice streak to end, wouldn’t it?
Game starts at 9:30 on Fox Sports North