Lakers vs. Timberwolves: Pre-Game Report

Minnesota Timberwolves (18-17) at Los Angeles Lakers (20-14)
7:30 PM PST, February 29, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)

Timberwolves Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Luke Ridnour
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Kevin Love
C: Nikola Pekovic

Key Reserves: G J.J. Barea, F Michael Beasley, F Derrick Williams

The Lakers get back to work tonight after a five day break for the All-Star Game. The team has won five of their last seven games, good enough to be a game and a half out of first place in the Pacific Division. They stand seven games back for the best record in the West, held by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who they fell to by the score of 100-85 last Thursday night. Tonight, they begin a three-game homestand, first against the cardiac Minnesota Timberwolves, a club once thought to have the inside track to a lottery pick for next year’s draft (those rights belong to the New Orleans Hornets.) The Lakers will then host the Sacramento Kings on Friday night before welcoming the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Kobe Bryant suffered a nasal fracture in Sunday’s All-Star Game at the hands of Dwyane Wade, who vigorously fouled the Lakers star when he attempted a slam dunk. His status will be determined just before gametime, but it can be assured that Kobe will make every effort to play as he has done in the past.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, are hot – winners of five games in six contests. They play in Los Angeles for the second consecutive evening, looking for a win in as many games.

Frontcourt: The Timberwolves feature Kevin Love, the superstar out of UCLA, who is arguably the league’s best rebounder. He can score too, and has slimmed down considerably for this season and his numbers show for it. In his first season with complete control of the offense, Love is averaging 25 points and 14 rebounds per game. Over the weekend, Love won the 3-point shootout, a testament to his ability to convert from long distance. When the game is on the line, more than likely the ball will go to Love. He is teamed with Wesley Johnson, another young star in the making who does not see many minutes, but can shoot the rock when called upon. This season he averages 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. Lastly, perhaps the most important piece of this young team is their center Nikola Pekovic, who is really starting to come into his own as evidenced by his 30-point, 12-rebound effort in a blowout victory over the Rockets on the 17th. In his last 10 games, he is averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Backcourt: One of Pau Gasol’s best friends is fellow countryman Ricky Rubio, the point guard. Rubio is finding plenty of success in the NBA with one exception: his shot. Rubio has struggled to shoot, but makes up for it by finding the open man (typically Love) who can then convert for him. He averages 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game. Rubio not only will re-unite with Gasol, his running-mate on the Spanish National Team, but will also rendezvous with Kobe, likely to be his fiercest competition in the upcoming Olympics. Ricky runs alongside Luke Ridnour, who continues to flourish in Minnesota after struggling to live up to his hype with the Supersonics and Bucks. Now in his ninth season, Ridnour is averaging 11.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He makes up for Rubio’s lack of a shot and even adds some range extending out to long distance.

Fun Facts:

  • The Lakers lead the overall series against the Timberwolves by a margin of 64-21. They are 1-0 against the Timberwolves this season, which includes a 106-101 victory on January 29, 2012. The Lakers have won 16 straight games against Minnesota and 19-0f-20, a double-overtime loss in Minnesota back in March of 2007.
  • The Lakers have not lost to Minnesota at Staples since 2005
  • Tonight will mark the first meeting between Andrew Bynum and J.J. Barea since the clothesline incident took place in the 2011 playoffs, which netted Bynum a four-game suspension at the start of this season.

Keys to a Laker Victory:

Jump Out Early
The Timberwolves trailed by eight points at halftime in their first meeting and tried to make things interesting, but could not stop Kobe, who poured in 35 points on the evening. Make this young squad feel the pressure early and often.

Guard any Lead with Care
Minnesota used a 33-15 run to defeat the Utah Jazz last Wednesday, shooting 52.4 percent in the fourth quarter. The team truly understands their role as an underdog and will continue to play for all 48 minutes. Show them who is the better team.

Frustrate Kevin Love
Everybody knows where the ball is headed. Just because he is a big man does not mean he cannot handle every duty because he can. It does not mean however that he can be shut down, he shot 3-for-14 for just 10 points against the Jazz. Force somebody else to step it up.

Best-Case Prediction: Lakers 104, Timberwolves 93
Worst-Case Prediction: Timberwolves 106, Lakers 105

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