Minnesota Timberwolves (22-22) at Los Angeles Lakers (27-16)
7:30 PM PST, March 16, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Timberwolves Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Luke Ridnour
SG: Martell Webster
SF: Wes Johnson
PF: Kevin Love
C: Nikola Pekovic
Key Reserves: PF Derrick Williams, F Michael Beasley, SG Wayne Ellington
Friday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Lakers will meet for the fourth and final time this season. The Lakers are up 3-0 on the T’Wolves and they will look to make it a perfect sweep. Minnesota’s star player, Kevin Love, missed two of those three games, but he is expected to be in the lineup for tonight’s matchup.
The Lakers are coming off two consecutive overtime road wins. In the past two games, they’ve shown grit, resilience and the unwillingness go down without a fight. After losing to the Jazz in overtime, the T’Wolves are likely to be weary on the second night of a double header on the road.
Frontcourt: The T’Wolves strength undoubtedly starts and ends with the frontcourt. In his second season, Pekovic has emerged as a tough post presence. As a starter he’s averaging 16 points, 9.2 boards, and a block per game. His improved play has taken some of the attention off of Kevin Love and allowed Love to expand his game. Love is having the best season of his early career and is arguably the best power forward in the league this year. He can do it all: score, rebound, pass and even shoot the three. An intangible that isn’t reflected in his stats is the leadership that he provides to the team and his ability to step up under pressure. The T’Wolves frontcourt has solid depth – Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley are two promising players. Both players are a threat to go off for 20 on any given night.
Backcourt: In the last meeting with the T’Wolves, Rubio went down with injury after colliding into Kobe Bryant. Later they learned that Rubio had suffered a torn ACL and would miss the rest of the season. In Rubio’s absence, Ridnour is now the primary ball handler and he has averaged 10.6 assists per game. Webster was recently inserted into the starting lineup where he has struggled. At the three, Wes Johnson averages just six points per game on 40 percent shooting and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. The T’Wolves have trouble finding scoring from their guards and the loss of Rubio amplified the problem. Barea has been used more lately to compensate for Rubio’s loss and his uncanny ability to penetrate the paint cannot be underestimated.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Win the Battle of the Paint – As mentioned above, the T’Wolves have a very deep and talented frontcourt. This will be a true test for the Lakers all-star duo of Pau and Bynum. Andrew Bynum in particular has turned on the beast mode button in March. He’s averaging 24 points on 67.2 percent shooting, 13.2 rebounds and 2 blocks. But perhaps the most eye popping stat of all is that he’s averaging a shade under one foul per game. Incredible. If Bynum and Gasol can win the battle down low then the Lakers will have a very good chance of coming away with the win.
Force the Guards to Score – Given that Minnesota’s frontcourt is so strong, the Lakers defensive strategy should be to deny the ball to the post and force the guards to shoot. Crowd the paint and live with Ridnour, Webster or Johnson taking the open three.