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Minnesota Timberwolves

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Photo: Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

March 28, 2014 — 5:00 PM (PST)
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Last night’s game truly defines the Lakers‘ (24-47) season. They could come up with an unexpected victory against the Knicks, playing the best they can, and then immediately come right back and have an ugly loss. After blowing out the Knicks on Tuesday, the Lakers lost vs. Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, by far the worst NBA team this season.

Now, the Lakers seek to get back to its winning ways by facing off vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (35-35)Based on the last 2 games, it seems like the Lakers will rely heavily on F Jordan Hill and F Nick Young. Hill had a monster game despite the loss, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, and actually had a double-double by the end of the first half.

Meanwhile, Young continues to bring spark off the bench, contributing 17 more points last night. Young brings an asset to the Lakers that they have been lacking throughout the month of February; a guard who can create his own shots at any point of the game.

Despite heading into another playoff-less season, Timberwolves’ PF Kevin Love still dominates his position this season. Love has turned into an NBA star, scoring 26.3 PPG and averaging 12.3 RPG this season. Love has tremendous footwork in the post, a skill he has nearly mastered throughout his NBA career while possessing the ability to shoot behind the three-point line, shooting 38.2%.

Projected Starters

PG – Ricky Rubio / Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Timberwolves]
SG – Kevin Martin / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]
SF – Corey Brewer / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Even]
PF – Kevin Love / Jordan Hill [Advantage: Timberwolves]
C – Gorgui Dieng / Chris Kaman [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Timberwolves: F Luc Richard M’Bah Moute, G Alexei Shved, F Dante Cunningham, G JJ Barea
Lakers: PG Steve Nash, F Nick Young C Robert SacreXavier Henry, G Kent Bazemore

Bench Advantage: Even

Injury List

Timberwolves: Out-C Nickola Pekovic, Out-F Ronny Turiaf, Out-G AJ Price
Lakers: Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-PG Jordan Farmar, Out-G Kobe Bryant

Bottom Line

Fans never know which Laker product they will get at any given moment; the one that destroyed the Knicks, or the one who lost vs. Bucks. Tonight, the Lakers are playing for 2 consecutive nights on the road, so fatigue will most likely set in for tonight’s matchup. The first quarter will most likely dictate how the Lakers will play tonight.

Prediction

Timberwolves: 113-104

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Photo: Frederic J. Brown | Getty Images

February 4, 2014 — 5:00 PM (PST)
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers (16-31) travel to Minneapolis to play vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24) to start their 3-game road trip.

The good news?

All 3 point guards for the Lakers return tonight. Steve NashSteve Blake and Jordan Farmar will all return to the floor tonight. As this season has plummeted downhill for this team, having multiple players return from their various injuries might give their team a jolt of energy.

With the return of the three point guards, there is uncertainty about how PG Kendall Marshall will be used tonight. Despite a dismal January as a team, Marshall has played very well, scoring 10.5 PPG and dishing out 9.6 APG but has been replaced in the lineup by all 3 point guards. While outrage might occur if he does not play tonight, anything head coach Mike D’Antoni does with his rotation should not surprise Laker Nation.

The bad news?

C Pau Gasol will miss the road trip due to a bruised groin. Gasol, who has once again found himself in trade talks again, played spectacularly well throughout January, averaging 20.8 PPG and 11.9 RPG. He clearly labored up and down the court the last 2 games, so hopefully rest and recovery will get him back on the court soon.

Local UCLA product and all-star starter PF Kevin Love has dominated this season for the Timberwolves. Love has scored 25.5 PPG and grabbed 13.1 RPG. He can shoot from the perimeter while dominating in the low post at the same time, causing match up nightmares for anyone who guards him.

Projected Starters

PG – Steve Nash / Ricky Rubio [Advantage: Timberwolves]
SG – Steve Blake / Kevin Martin [Advantage: Timberwolves]
SF – Jodie Meeks / Corey Brewer [Advantage: Timberwolves]
PF – Ryan Kelly / Kevin Love [Advantage: Timberwolves]
C – Robert Sacre / Ronny Turiaf [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Timberwolves: F Dante Cunningham, G Alexey SchvedG JJ Barea, Chase Budinger

Lakers: Nick YoungG Jordan Farmar, F Jordan Hill,  PG Kendall Marshall

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Timberwolves: Out-C Nikola Pekovic

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Victory

Play Defense: Allowing 100 or more points in 19 out of the last 21 games will not win any team any games regardless of how proficient their offense is. Maybe having all their point guards return will help the Lakers exert more effort on defense. However, that seems very unlikely.

Bottom Line

The Lakers currently have a 7 game losing streak. Having their point guards all return tonight will help. However, the likelihood they will help solve their defensive rebounding and defensive issues seem very slim to none.

Prediction

Timberwolves: 114-103

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Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn| Getty Images

December 20, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN / TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (12-13) try to pick up the broken piece of glasses and battle the Minnesota Timberwolves (13-13) tonight after learning that G Kobe Bryant will now be out for approximately 6 weeks after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. Along with Bryant, the 3 Lakers point guards, PG Steve Nash, PG Steve Blake, and PG Jordan Farmar, are still sidelined due to their injuries and not expected to return anytime soon. As a result, the Lakers signed D-League PG Kendall Marshall to a non-guaranteed contract to fill the back-up point guard position. 

With all the injuries, players like G Nick Young, G Xavier Henry, and SG Jodie Meeks have to cover for Bryant’s loss and perform as well as they did before Bryant’s return. Without Bryant, the Lakers will run Mike D’Antoni‘s system that involes a lot of ball movement and running up and down the floor. 

The Lakers now have to play the Minnesota Timberwolves, who visited the Lakers earlier season and won by 23 points. They are a much improved team this season, mainly due to  staying healthy as a team unlike last season. The Timberwolves are led by the duo of local UCLA product PF Kevin Love and PG Ricky Rubio, both of them being potential all-stars this season. Love has had another dominant season, averaging 25.2 PPG and 13.7 RPG. He can shoot from the perimeter while dominating in the low post at the same time, causing match up nightmares for anyone who guards him. Rubio reminds a lot of old NBA fans of the great “Pistol Pete” Maravich as a point guard who can make difficult plays look very easy using his insane craftiness. Rubio has had a solid season himself, averaging 9.4 PPG and 7.9 APG. Althought the Timberwolves have the talent in their starting lineup to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, their lack of depth has cost them a lot of games this season.

Projected Starters

PG – Ricky Rubio Xavier Henry [Advantage: Timberwolves]

SG – Kevin Martin / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Timberwolves]

SF – Corey Brewer Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Timberwolves]

PF – Kevin LoveJordan Hill [Advantage: Timberwolves]

C – Nikola Pekovic Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Grizzlies: G JJ Barea, Alexei ShvedDante Cunningham

Lakers: G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams, Robert Sacre

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. Effort: Lets face it. The Lakers cannot beat any of their opponents anytime soon by pure talent especially with Bryant and their entire point guard players out. Therefore, the Lakers have to play with a lot of energy and effort. The Lakers have to out rebound the Timberwolves, get easy baskets, and compete for all loose balls to grind out a victory tonight. Players like F Jordan HillRobert Sacre, and F Wes Johnson has to continue to get rebounds, play hard on both ends, and do the intangible things that do not show in the box score.
  2. Swaggy P: With Bryant out, that leaves Lakers 6th man Nick Young as the only player who can create his own shots on the offensive end. Young has had a fantastic year so far, leading the Lakers in scoring at 14.9 PPG on 43.5 % shooting under Bryant’s tutelage. Young will be relied very heavily upon to score at the end of games and when the offense becomes stagnant.

Bottom Line

With Bryant’s absence, the optimism for tonight’s game is very bleak to say the least. Hopefully, the Lakers play with an inspired energy the way Bryant would want them to tonight. The Lakers also have to make their shots and not allow the Timberwolves extra possessions especially since their talent is superior to the Lakers.

Prediction

Timberwolves: 115-98

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Another week in Laker Land has passed us, and for the first time in a long time it feels like our boys in Purple and Gold are (finally) headed in the right direction. While the Laker schedule was light on games with only three contests this week, there were plenty of things to take from games against Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Here is a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Lakers past week in action.

Good: Kobe Bryant circa 2006 is Back.

Really, I could just post a link to this dunk and it would be enough of an explanation.

The Mamba has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break ended, and the Lakers 5-1 record during that time is tied directly to what Bryant is doing. In the past five games alone Kobe is averaging a whopping 34.8 points per game, on 66-116 shooting, good for a cool 56.9% from the field. Did I mention that Bryant is doing this at 34-years old, in his 17th NBA season, 60 games into a campaign that has seen him average 38.2 minutes per contest? Oh and all while shooting what would be the highest field goal percentage of his career.

Bryant realizes this is a make or break stretch for the Lakers playoff chances, and he looks to be up for the challenge.

I’ve been in attack mode since the break. It’s go time. We’re getting a little bit closer and we’re starting to get in more of a striking distance where you start watching (the playoff race).

It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this guy is not only still going strong, but getting better as the season and his career progress. With the way Kobe’s been playing since the break, would you really want to bet against him getting the Lakers into the playoffs? Me neither. Kobe is aging like a fine wine (or Vino as he’s now apparently calling himself), just in time to save the Laker season.

Ugly: Interior Defense.

One negative that really stood out this week for the Lakers was just how bad their defense is in the paint, especially when Dwight Howard sits. In the loss to Denver, the Lakers gave up an astronomical 78 points in the paint. That’s more than some teams have scored in ENTIRE GAMES recently. The Nuggets were also able to gain a 33-3 edge on the fastbreak, further emphasizing the Lakers inability to not only get in position, but to challenge at the rim at all. This only gets worse when LA’s lone shot blocker has to take a seat. Granted, that Denver game was the second of a road back-to-back in an arena where any team that’s not named the Nuggets is expected to lose, so you can make a bit of an excuse for the Lakers, right?

Wrong. That would be fine and dandy if the Hawks didn’t score almost at will inside at the end of the game last night. While the Lakers were able to escape with a huge win (or avoid a huge collapse, your choice), you simply cannot ignore the fact that Atlanta scored three consecutives times at the basket in the final two minutes. Oh, and all those buckets were basically unguarded lay-ups and dunks. In fact, had Josh Smith been able to handle Devin Harris’ entry pass at the end of the game, we’d probably be lamenting another terrible loss rather than breathing a sigh of relief.

The Lakers should be able to slow down the scoring of other teams inside once Pau returns from his injury right? Wait what do you mean no? Let’s just move on.

Bad: Steve Nash Turnovers.

With the Lakers winning games and Kobe dominating on offense, it’s been difficult to find many things wrong with the Los Angeles offense. One thing that has definitely been off in the six games since the All-Star break has been Steve Nash’s handle. Nash has 20 turnovers (TWENTY!) in those six games, and that number is actually helped by the fact that Nash had none in the blow-out win over Minnesota. It’s hard to pick on anything Nash does because he has done such an incredible job of adjusting to the offense so that his teammates can thrive, basically becoming a spot-up shooter in this system.

But in Denver, those Nash turnovers became very costly. As is often the case with turnovers on the road, Denver was able to turn six Nash turnovers into points on the fast-break that really ignited their offense and helped them kill any Laker hope of winning int he Mile High City.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Good: Dwight Howard.

No, really. This isn’t sarcasm. I’m serious!

I know, it’s been a long time since we had a week free of tearing Dwight down, but the All-Star big man has actually been a force since the All-Star break. Sure he still forces some bad shots in the paint, and yeah his free throws are still terrible. But, hold on let me channel my inner Rock, FINALLY DWIGHT HAS COME BACK, sort of. Howard has really been playing with great energy lately.

Starting with a dominating 24-point, 12-rebound performance against the Celtics and on through the next five games, Howard has shown flashes of the All-Star Laker fans expected to see when he was brought in. In the past six games, Dwight is averaging 17 points and 14 boards per game, while also throwing in two swats a night. His scoring may not be as high as Dwight would like, but he is finally making an impact for the Lakers in a way that translates directly to wins. Boards, defense, and hard screen-and-rolls on offense will help this team win, and Howard seems to have finally figured that out.

Ugly: Opposing Role Players (still) Killing the Lakers.

This has really been a theme of the entire Laker season, but there were a few more instances this week of role guys really hurting the Lakers. In Denver, Wilson Chandler was a late insert into the starting line-up for the Nuggets, and all he did was drop 23 points on the Lakers. And just in case Laker fans forgot what he did to them the last two times these teams met, Corey Brewer chipped in 16 points and plenty of overdone celebrations. These two specifically played a huge role in sparking the Nuggets to a win over the Lakers.

Then, this ugly problem reared its head again against Atlanta. Devin Harris turned into an All-Star for a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. By scoring 14 of his 16 points during that span, Harris nearly single-handedly brought the Hawks back from a 16-point deficit. Not to be outdone, Kyle Korver came in and also scored 16 on the Lakers, hitting a few big shots that nearly cost the home team the game.

This is another issue that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, but the Lakers are .500 so let’s stop talking about bad stuff!

Bad: Momentum Swings with the Bench.

Okay, so this is still something bad we have to discuss, but I’ll counter it with some good. The Laker bench was great against the T’Wolves this week. Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake all scored in double-digits and helped the Lakers blow Minnesota out of the building.

It was the other two games this week that were cause for alarm, however. After a solid first quarter in Denver, the Laker bench allowed the Nuggets to blow the game open in the second quarter. Denver built a lead the Lakers were never able to recover from. Then against the Hawks, the bench twice blew a double-digit lead they had inherited from the starters. While only Meeks, Jamison and Blake entered the game off the bench, they were a collective -40 against Atlanta.

Simply put, this is not going to get it done most nights. Scoring isn’t a problem for the bench guys, but their inability to stop anyone on the opposing bench from scoring really puts a limitation on what the team can do.

Like most .500 teams, the Lakers have plenty of room for improvement. On the plus side, this is the first time in a roller-coaster of a season where Laker Nation can confidently say that its team is finally on the rise. This time, we just have to hope it’s for the rest of the season. Any more steep drops on this ride will have the Lakers heading straight into the off-season.

Oh and by the way, just in case you forgot what Kobe did yesterday, here you go. You’re welcome.

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.