The Lakers struggles have continued, having now lost 12 of their last 14 games. Tonight they hit the road again for a three game trip that begins in Minnesota against Kevin Love and the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves were expected to be one of the most improved teams in the league this season, but have struggled with consistency, posting only a 23-24 record to this point. Making this more difficult, the T-Wolves will be without starting center Nikola Pekovic.
That falls right in line with the Lakers who are without Pau Gasol for the week. On the plus side, it looks like the Lakers will finally get some of their injured players back on the court as Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jordan Farmar are all looking to return.
In Kevin Love, the T-Wolves have the premier power forward in the NBA. Love has a skillset that is unmatched, as his excellent rebounding, combined with his top notch shooting ability, makes him a headache for whoever is tasked with guarding him.
With Pekovic out, former Laker Ronny Turiaf steps into the starting role. While not the same level of player as Pekovic, Turiaf brings a lot of energy and must be accounted for, especially on the offensive glass.
Corey Brewer on the wing is one of the quickest and most athletic forwards in the game. He regularly gets behind the defense for easy fast break layups and is excellent at reading passing lanes. It will be on Wesley Johnson to keep an eye on him and not let him leak out.
With no Pau Gasol, the Lakers will likely turn to either Jordan Hill or Robert Sacre. Neither is the offensive threat that Gasol is, but can make up for it in other ways with their rebounding and defensive capabilities.
They will need that against the Timberwolves who are the third best rebounding team in the league. The Lakers have a bad habit of not boxing out and allow far too many offensive rebounds, against the Timberwolves that can be the difference maker.
Ricky Rubio is one of the best, and most creative, passers in the league. He currently ranks third in the NBA in assists. While his shooting has never quite caught up to his passing, his backcourt mate, Kevin Martin, more than makes up for it.
At 19 points per game, Martin continues to show that he can get baskets in a number of ways. Slowing him down, in addition to Kevin Love, has proven to be a tall task for most NBA teams.
Steve Blake gets the tough task of trying to corral Martin in his first game back. Blake will have to keep an eye on Martin as he has an extremely quick release and an awkward form that allows him to get off shots from weird angles.
Nash will have an equally tough task in keeping Rubio out of the paint. The good news for Nash is that guarding Rubio will allow him to roam a little more than usual as Rubio is not a threat from the perimeter.
It will also be important for Nash and Blake, as well as Meeks, Marshall, Young and the other guards to attack the T-Wolves guards on offense as they are average defensively and with no shot blocker in the paint, the guards should find success in that.
Keys To A Lakers Victory
Limiting Second Chances: The Timberwolves are the second best offensive rebounding team in the league. The Lakers are one of the worst teams at keeping teams off the offensive glass. With Kevin Love on the court, the Lakers have to find a way to limit the T-Wolves’ second chances.
Sacre, Hill, Ryan Kelly, and Wesley Johnson not only need to crash the boards, but have to put bodies on guys. The Lakers defense can be solid at times, but not being able to finish possessions by grabbing the rebound can nullify everything. Against this team, it is a recipe for disaster.
Stopping The Fast Break: The T-Wolves excel at racing out on the fast break. Love is the best outlet passer in the league, Rubio is great at finding open guys thanks to his excellent court vision, and Brewer and Martin can break out for easy layups.
Brewer and Rubio are also great at jumping passes for steals, and the Lakers have had their fair share of turnover issues. The Lakers have experienced what can happen if you allow the Timberwolves to control the pace and get out on the break at will. If they plan on picking up a victory, they better keep the T-Wolves in the half court.
Points In The Paint: For all of the strengths of the T-Wolves frontcourt, their interior defense is not one of them. Love is an average defender at best, and without Pekovic, they lack anything even resembling a rim protector. The Lakers must take advantage of this.
This is a much tougher task without Gasol, but everyone is capable of attacking the rim. Love and Turiaf should not stop anyone from getting where they want to go and it will be on the Lakers to make them pay for it.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are +10 against the Timberwolves via Sportsbook
Los Angeles Lakers (16-31) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24)
5:00 PM PST, February 4, 2014
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Timberwolves Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Corey Brewer
PF: Kevin Love
C: Ronny Turiaf
Key Reserves: G: Alexey Shved PG: JJ Barea PF: Dante Cunningham SF: Chase Budinger
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Steve Blake
SF: Wes Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Pau Gasol
Lakers Practice: Steve Blake Returning From Injury, It’ll Be Interesting How Coach Uses Guards