The Timberwolves are in Los Angeles the next couple days. On Sunday, the Timberwolves will play the Lakers and on Monday they'll face the Clippers--both of those games will be played at the STAPLES Center.
The big headline heading into tonight's game vs. the Lakers is the lengthy losing streak. We're all aware of it, we talked about it multiple times last season, but the Wolves were unable to snap the skid then. The Wolves have lost 22-straight games to the Lakers. Minnesota's last win over the Lakers came on March 6, 2007 when the Wolves won in double overtime: 117-107.
The Wolves have also lost 13-straight contests at the STAPLES Center vs. the Lakers. In those twenty-two straight losses, the Timberwolves have allowed the Lakers to score an average of 107.8 a game. The franchise for the Lakers is Kobe Bryant. Kobe played in 21 of those 22 wins and averaged 27.9 points per game over that period.
The Lakers, of course will be without Kobe as he continues to recover from the achilles injury that ended his season at the end of 2012-13. That is good news for the Wolves, though in this young season, it's clear that you can't overlook this Lakers squad.
The Lakers have had an up-and-down young season though there's no denying there is some good talent on this roster. I don't think it's enough talent to secure a playoff spot this season, but they'll be competitive on a nightly basis--more so than I thought they'd be before the season began.
The Lakers obviously lost Dwight Howard to the Rockets and also amnestied Metta World Peace (who later signed with the Knicks). That left them with only three of their starters from a season ago AND one of them may not return until the New Year. With no Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol is the starting center again.
Despite what anyone wants to tell you (especially Laker fans), this Los Angeles team isn't very good. They're a pretty good offensive team and can definitely catch some teams off guard this season, but they're ultimately a group of players that the front office signed on a minimum deals for just a year or two because they knew with no Kobe Bryant and them losing Dwight Howard, there was absolutely no way they could have the type of success they've enjoyed in year's past. When you lose the NBA's best center and your biggest free agent acquisitions are Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Shawne Williams & Xavier Henry...you know it's going to be a long season in Tinsel Town.
Like the Wolves, the Lakers will be known for their offense, however they have a lot of streaky offensive players on their roster and beyond Jordan Hill they really don't have a player who's known more for their defensive capabilities than their offensive abilities. The Wolves are definitely an offensive-oriented team, but you know with Rick Adelman at the helm and guys like Corey Brewer, Ronny Turiaf, Gorgui Dieng & Dante Cunningham; there will be some defense played. Whereas a Mike D'Antoni run squad isn't going to be known for playing much D at all (the Lakers are allowing 105.6 points per game--27th in the NBA...Minnesota is 19th allowing 100.5) and instead, if they are beating teams it will be those 120-115 type games. The Wolves will have plenty of those themselves, but they will hold some opponents under 85 this season, too (held OKC to 81 in their second game of the season).
The Lakers are 3-4 on the year, 2-1 at home and 2-4 vs. the Western Conference. They'll be looking to avoid a fifth-straight loss in their last seven games after falling to the Pelicans in their previous outing. The Wolves are 4-2 on the year, 1-1 on the road and 2-1 vs. the West. They're coming off a win over the Mavericks in which the "Kevins" scored 32 apiece for a combined 64 points--they'll look to build on that tonight at STAPLES Center.
The Lakers have no Kobe Bryant. In their last game they were also without their starting point guard (Steve Nash). The Lakers' last game was a second game in a back-to-back set and with Nash's back acting up, they don't want to risk losing another one of their main guys. He should play in this one. The Wolves will be without Chase Budinger (knee) and Ronny Turiaf (elbow). Derrick Williams missed Friday's win over the Mavericks with back spasms. I haven't heard anything definitive, but my guess is that he will be available to play tonight.
Let's take a look at the probable starters for this one...
Los Angeles Lakers
Has 'Ol Father Time finally caught up to Mr. Nash? Those stats are rough for the former MVP! Less than 8 points and barely 5 assists a game?! It makes sense though when you realize that the Lakers' leading scorer through their first seven games is reserve Jodie Meeks who is averaging just over 12 points per game. The other veteran who's supposed to be helping hold down the fort until the cavalry (Kobe) returns is Pau Gasol. Pau is averaging a team-high 10.7 rebounds a game, but is scoring just 12 a night.
When you look at the Lakers' box score, you see a lot of weird things. The first is that Mike D'Antoni can't decide on his starting lineup. Jodie Meeks has started, so has Xavier Henry and Chris Kaman. So, the starting lineup you see above probably won't be the one he trots out there. It just seems (matchup-wise) to make the most sense to me as the group D'Antoni would go with tonight. You're not giving up a lot starting two point guards, Corey Brewer isn't a huge offensive threat (though he has looked good the past few games) so Nick Young shouldn't be shown up too bad. Shawne Williams is a little more versatile a big man as opposed to Jordan Hill or Chris Kaman. Williams' three-point shooting will force Kevin Love to come out from the paint on defense and not allowing him to swallow up every available board. Another weird thing you notice when you glance at a Lakers box score from this season is D'Antoni's rotations. I mean, Wes Johnson is seeing close to 25 minutes a game (and we all know he can't play). D'Antoni plays a lot of swingmen (Henry, Meeks, Young, Johnson, etc) extended minutes.
I don't think it's a good thing to continue to shuffle your starting lineup unless you've lost a number of games in a row and there's clearly something wrong or if you must because of injuries to key players. D'Antoni has continuously shuffled his starting lineup this season and I'm not sure how he expects them to build any chemistry with one another if he continues to do that. You'd think after 4 or 5 games of the preseason he'd have his rotations set, but the Lakers have played seven REGULAR season games and he's still shuffling the deck--I think that could cost the Lakers some games this season.
I apologize if I seem to be pointing out every single flaw with the Lakers this season (I haven't pointed out EVERY flaw...but I could...) but it's the first time in a while that the Lakers have so many areas open to criticism and the smugness and entitlement of that franchise and their fans for so long has left me a little bitter--especially being a diehard Wolves fan who hasn't seen postseason basketball in the Twin Cities for nearly a decade. I'll stop now, but just know I didn't really want to :)
The keys tonight will be defense and bench production. This is a Lakers team that won't play great D, so if we can get some stops and turn D to O, we should snap this lengthy skid to LAL. If J.J. Barea doesn't have a breakout 20-point outing sometime in the next week, I may lose it! I'm REALLY tired of the Wolves' starters turning in great quarters offensively only to have leads squandered when Barea & Co. take the court.
Tipoff is a late start: 8:30pmCT, stay tuned after the final horn for the recap on HOWL, GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!