On Thursday the Lakers received news that Kobe would miss six weeks due to a knee fracture. Originally the injury was not deemed serious so fans and teammates were rightfully shocked. In the wake of this news the team signed Kendall Marshall for point guard depth. The team will need to band together and rediscover the superb chemistry that they had earlier in the season.
Tonight the Lakers will play host to the Timberwolves who have their star Kevin Love back who missed most of last year. With Love and Rubio healthy many thought the T-Wolves would make a push for the playoffs. However they have been pretty average and are only .500 for the season. If they were in the Eastern Conference they would be a lock for the playoffs but in the deep West they are on the bubble. The Timberwolves beat the Lakers 113-90 back in November.
Frontcourt: Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the league at the moment. The former UCLA Bruin is so versatile that he’s tough to completely shut down. He is averaging 25.2 points, 13.7 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.5 threes per game. His fullcourt outlet passes are very dangerous and the Lakers will need to streak back on defense after a missed shot. Love also likes to set a pick then roll to the three-point line where he’s scoring at a 38.7% clip. Hill and Williams will need to anticipate the possibility of Love rolling out beyond the arc rather than to the rim.
Starting center Nikola Pekovic is coming off of a monster 30 point game against the Blazers. He’s a large man who can clear space and get tons of easy shots near the rim. Pau Gasol will need to body up and prevent Pekovic from getting deep in the paint. The Lakers guard will also need to stay in front of Rubio and prevent him from setting up Pekovic for easy lay-ins.
Backcourt: Ricky Rubio notched a triple-double in the first meeting between these two teams earlier this season. The Lakers couldn’t stay in front of him and Rubio slashed and dished his way to 14 assists. While Rubio is an amazing passer, he’s a very weak shooter and the Lakers guards need to stay in front of him and force him to shoot. Rubio’s weakness is Kevin Martin’s strength; Martin is a very good shooter and is the team’s second leading scorer with 20.6 ppg. Martin is particularly deadly from beyond the arc where he is knocking down 40.3% of his attempts.
Rounding out the starting five is Corey Brewer who is a terror on defense. He is only used sparingly in their halfcourt offense for spot up threes and cuts to the basket. Brewer also scores often in transition via laser football passes from Kevin Love. Backup point guard J.J. Barea is not someone the Lakers should fall asleep on. He’d probably start for the current injury depleted Lakers squad and he’s a formidable scorer and slasher.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Scamper Back After a Miss: Love and Brewer seem to connect on highlight fullcourt outlet passes several times per game. Love’s uncanny ability to pinpoint 50 foot passes and Brewer’s dashing speed are a deadly combination in transition. With that in mind the Lakers need to keep an eye on Brewer as soon as they miss a shot and make sure someone is running with him. The Lakers cannot afford to give up too many cheap/easy points if they hope to win tonight.
Guard Rubio’s Passing Lanes: Since Rubio always seeks to pass the rock, the Lakers should overplay his passing lanes and allow him space to shoot. Other teams have been successful playing Rubio this way and it’s an effective strategy given his poor shooting. The Lakers need to take away Rubio’s strength and force him to beat them with his weakness. It would be a good thing if Rubio attempts 12+ shots since he only makes 35.2% of his field goals.
Team Chemistry: The Lakers had great team chemistry early in the season before Kobe returned. Once their star returned the team took a few games to adjust to his presence. It seemed like things were just starting to click before they received news of his knee injury. To say the Lakers are disappointed and shorthanded is an understatement. They will need to rally together, move the ball on offense and give a concerted effort on defense. This squad has shown that they can be competitive without their star and they’ll have a chance to rediscover that chemistry tonight.
Minnesota Timberwolves (13-13) at Los Angeles Lakers (12-13)
7:30 PM PST, December 20, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN, TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Timberwolves Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Corey Brewer
PF: Kevin Love
C: Nikola Pekovic
Key Reserves: PG: J.J. Barea PF: Dante Cunningham PF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Xavier Henry
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wes Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol
VIDEO: Kobe Bryant OUT 6 Weeks, Steve Nash OUT Approx. 4 More Weeks