The Wolves continue their homestand with their first matchup of the season, against the Los Angeles Lakers. This will be the first of three meetings between these two teams, one game will be played in L.A. & the other in Minnesota following tonight's matchup.
Both of these teams have struggled mightily this season. The Timberwolves have been decimated by injuries to a number of key players and although they started the season strong, have definitely struggled this past month. The Los Angeles Lakers are a team that started the season terribly, leading to the eventual dismissal of Mike Brown and the hiring of Mike D'Antoni. It hasn't been much better under Mike #2 as it's clear his run-and-gun offense doesn't mesh with this Lakers roster. This, despite having the best shooting guard (Kobe Bryant) and center (Dwight Howard) in the game and a top 10 point guard (Steve Nash) and power forward (Pau Gasol).
A lot of criticism has fallen on the Lakers' big man, Pau Gasol (as it has these past couple seasons). Pau has struggled staying healthy with some knee & foot problems, however there's no doubting that he's still one of the premier big men in this League. I REALLy hope he's traded before the Deadline this season and I hope it isn't to Minnesota. I would love to have him on the team, but if it means we have to part with Nikola Pekovic--forget about it! Wouldn't it be cool to see him reunite in Memphis for a deal that sends Zach Randolph to LA? A Gasol brothers frontcourt?!
Anyway, back to TWolves vs. Lakers. The Lakers come into tonight's game as losers of their last eight road games as well as 3-5 in their last eight games overall. The Wolves have lost their last five straight games and are 1-10 in their last eleven games. These are two teams that are currently on the outside looking in, when it comes to the 'playoff picture'. The Lakers currently sit 10th in the Western Conference and 4 games out of the eighth seed, the Wolves are 12th out West and are currently 5 games out of that eighth seed.
The Lakers have won 19 straight games vs. the TWolves, which is the longest active streak currently in the NBA, for one team over another.
With the Lakers' struggles there have been some changes in the lineups. Last season under Mike Brown, when the Lakers 'hit a rough patch' he placed Devin Ebanks into the starting lineup for Metta World Peace. This season, under D'Antoni and the Lakers struggling mightily he's pushed the struggling Gasol to the bench in favor of Earl Clark, who has performed quite well in his new role. Clark was a part of the deal that sent both him, Howard & Chris Duhon to the Lakers.
That's not the only thing that's changed. Apparently Kobe Bryant has suddenly learned how to pass the ball. Perhaps it's a bit of Steve Nash influence, but Kobe Bryant has 48 assists over his last four games (the most assists of his career over a four-game span). I was reading an article on Kobe's passing and they had some great statistics, that I wanted to bring to this preview...
With all this in mind, I definitely wouldn't be surprised to see him go off for 30+ tonight. It's clear he holds a VERY significant advantage over the Wolves' backcourt of Ricky Rubio & Luke Ridnour or J.J. Barea & Alexey Shved. If he gets going early in this one, it's going to be a very long night Wolves fans.
The Wolves could hold a big advantage in the paint, however. Dwight Howard left the Lakers' last game (a 86-92L @PHX) midway through the fourth quarter and did not return. He re-aggravated that shoulder injury (a torn labrum) and is currently listed as 'uncertain' for Friday's game in Minneapolis. He did say he didn't want to miss any games and would likely try and give it a go on Friday, but at the same time he didn't want to do anything that would further damage his shoulder. If he's unable to go, I'd expect Pau Gasol to start in his place. The Lakers will be without their backup center: Jordan Hill. Hill suffered a hip injury that required season-ending surgery.
The Minnesota Timberwolves got Pekovic & Shved back after they both missed five straight games. However, they're still playing without: Kevin Love (hand) & Chase Budinger (knee)--both of whom should return sometime in mid-March (Bud could be slightly ahead of that--perhaps late-Feb). Brandon Roy (knees) talked to the media yesterday and basically said he had another setback and really had no idea whether or not he'd play again. Malcolm Lee (knee/hip) underwent to separate surgeries during the month of January and is out for the season.
Let's take a look at tonight's probable starting lineups...
As I said, if Dwight Howard is unable to play, expect Pau Gasol (12.8P, 7.9R, 3.7A, 1.3B) to start in his place. Don't be surprised if DH plays limited minutes either.
The Wolves' biggest concern will be Kobe Bryant. I have strong faith in Ricky vs. Nash, AK vs. MWP, D-Will & Clark and of course Pekovic vs. Howard. However, I'm VERY worried about who or how the Wolves are going to guard Kobe. Sure, Luke can try his best to deny him the ball, but eventually he's going to get it and at that point there's very little he'll be able to do to stop him. I would say the Wolves could have AK on Kobe, but then it's Luke vs. the very physical Artest (it's easier to type and I hate the guy anyway).
That's all for now, this one will be featured on ESPN as part of a doubleheader tonight. The Wolves will be the second game and therefore it'll be a late tip--8:30pmCT. Enjoy the game, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!