As disappointing as the 4th quarter melt-down vs. the Phoenix Suns may have been, the Lakers are still a team that has won 3/4 games, and a team that was in position to get a rare road victory (5-16 this season) even with an exorbitant amount of “tired-leg/mind” turnovers throughout the first three quarters.
The fact that Phoenix is one of the worst teams in the Western Conference is meaningless. The Lakers could have used that victory, plain and simple. Dwight Howard is listed as day-to-day after re-aggravating his sore right shoulder (labrum), and the Lakers now find themselves in what could be considered a “must-win” situation vs. Minnesota.
I assure you, that isn’t a failed attempt at generating a frenzy, nor is it hyperbole. Regardless of whether they are mathematically still in the playoff hunt, the Lakers are a team that really looked as though they were turning the corner with some of the adjustments and sacrifices the collective group were embracing, or at the very least ‘accepting’ for a few games. It has been widely accepted that this Grammy Trip is one of the Lakers’ last opportunities to not only assert itself, but to finally establish a collective bond.
Well, as crazy as it may sound, I think tonight’s game is the most important game of the road trip. The Timberwolves are also mired within a total tailspin, having lost 10 of their last 11 games. The Wolves are also without the services of injured PF Kevin Love, and SG Brandon Roy. I’m sure all of Lakers Nation would agree, you simply must find a way to win this game.
Frontcourt: As mentioned, without the services of Kevin Love, the Timberwolves rely upon veteran, interchangeable F Andrei Kirilenko for productivity up front. Second year F Derrick Williams remains inconsistent, at best. Coach Adelman is thankful to have starting C Nikola Pekovic back in the rotation, as Pekovic has developed into one of the better “bangers” you’ve never heard of. If the Lakers’s bigs don’t match his intensity, Pekovic can do some damage on the boards, and may surprise you as a scorer if you don’t pay attention him.
Mikael Gelabale and Dante Cunningham provide energy and hustle off the bench, and even though Love has missed 24 of their 42 games, Minnesota remains the sixth best rebounding team in the league. Outside of Pekovic, the Timberwolves’ big men are quicker and athletic (think: Denver). Meaning, the Lakers can ill-afford to have defensive lapses, nor can they afford to allow Minnesota to attack the glass on either side of the court.
Backcourt: The Wolves are currently starting a double-PG lineup with both Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour in the backcourt. Returning from ACL surgery, Rubio has struggled to find his shot, as he’s shooting just 28 percent from the field through his first 17 games of action. J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved can each be dangerous in transition and from the perimeter if the second unit fails to rotate and get back in transition. The Lakers will have to be careful not to get caught up in the back-screens and motion Coach Adelman is famous for running. Communication will be the key.
Keys To Victory:
Don’t Make Heroes Out Of Role Players And Reserves – We know opposing teams tend to treat a visit from the Lakers are their measuring stick or de facto playoff victory. Knowing that, the Lakers have no excuse if they permit an injury-depleted team in the middle of a tail spin to conjure up the confidence they can beat you.
Don’t Revert To Bad Tendencies – No, that doesn’t just mean Bryant, but he is not excluded from the discussion. Far be it from me to tell a man with Bryant’s credentials how to play the game, but the Lakers stand a much better chance to win when he dominates the game with a well-rounded mindset. That said, for Bryant to be able to do this, the rest of the team must remain aggressive and determined to maintain the same focus/intensity.
Pau Must Come To Play – We saw the way things unraveled once Howard was lost to injury. Whether Howard is available or not, it is time for Gasol to stop commenting in the media and simply permit his game to speak for itself. While I agree with his concerns about not playing the crucial minutes at the end of games, I firmly believe Coach D’Antoni would have no choice but to play the two time champion if he would consistently produce.
Bryant and Gasol have been effective with their vaunted 2-man attack that led to three consecutive trips to the Finals in recent games. I’d like to see more of that. Most importantly, I’d like to see Gasol defend the rim and attack the glass the same way he did during those runs. That type of effort is all the talking anyone needs to do.
Los Angeles Lakers (20-26) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-25)
6:30 PM PST, January 29, 2013
Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
TV: TWC Sports Network, ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Timberwolves Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Luke Ridnour
SG: Ricky Rubio
SF: Andrei Kirilenko
PF: Derrick Williams
C: Nikola Pekovic
G: J.J. Barea G: Alexey Shved PF: Dante Cunningham