Pre-Game Report: Lakers Face Kevin Love and the Timberwolves on the Road

Los Angeles Lakers (11-9) at Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10)
4:00 PM PST, January 29, 2012
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

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

Key Reserves: F Micael Beasley, F Derrick Williams, C Nikola Pekovic

Pacers Injury Report: G J.J. Barea listed as doubtful (sprained left ankle), C Brad Miller listed as doubtful (left knee)

Lakers Injury Report: G Steve Blake will not play (sternum)

The Lakers are looking for their second road win of the season as they face the second youngest team in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves have lost the last 15 straight games against the Lakers, losing by an average of 12.6 points per games during this streak.The Wolves have an overall record of 21-63 against the Lakers and are looking to end their losing streak against the Lakers with big performances by leaders Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.

Frontcourt: This is Kevin Love’s team, not only defensively but offensively as well. The Gasol-Love matchup will be interesting to watch as both are big men who can shoot from long-range. Love is averaging 25 points per game and 14 rebounds per game. Center Darko Milicic has been called out to improve on the offensive end. Milicic is averaging just 6 points per game and 4 rebounds per game. Therefore, the Lakers should push the ball into Bynum since he should have no problem dominating Milicic. Backup center Nikola Pekovic is coming off a great game against the Spurs, earning 14 points and 10 rebounds where he started for Milicic who was out with the flu. Rookie Derrick Williams is having a solid rookie season, averaging 8 points per game and 5 points per game. Michael Beasley is coming off an sprained foot injury which sidelined him for three weeks. Beasley is averaging 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game.

Backcourt: Ricky Rubio has finally made his way to the NBA and the Wolves, and it seems to be well worth the wait. Rubio is averaging 11 points per game, nine assists per game and two and a half steals per game. Not too bad for a rookie. Fisher will certainly have his hands full with Rubio and his speed. Luke Ridnour is averaging 12 points and four assists per game on 48 percent shooting, which is the highest for any of the Wolves’ starters. Wesley Johnson is averaging six points and three rebounds per game, and has the difficult assignment of guarding Kobe Bryant tonight. Look for Kobe to dominate this matchup and have a stellar performance against the Wolves. Guard Wayne Ellington’s minutes and averages have gone up from last season and is adding seven points per game to the Wolves’ bench.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Win the Rebound Battle: Kevin Love is a rebounding machine. However, so is Andrew Bynum. In fact, Kevin Love is the second best rebounder in the NBA, with 14 rebounds per game, while Andrew Bynum is the third best rebounder in the game, with 13 rebounds per game. However, the Lakers’ other 7 footer, Paul Gasol is averaging 10 rebounds per game which gives the Lakers the edge to win the rebound battle against the Wolves. No one else in the Wolves’ frontcourt is averaging in the top fifty in the NBA for rebounds. However, statistically both team are almost identical in rebound (offensive and defensive), which make controlling the boards all that more important.

Offensive Balance: When Pau Gasol asked for more touches in the paint, Mike Brown and the rest of the team listened. Besides a great performance from Gasol, another affect occurred that was welcomed. There was an increase of contribution by the entire team. Essentially, there was an offensive balance. When there is more than the threat of Kobe Bryant for defenders to think of, it confuses the defense, creating open shots and easy opportunities. The bench (Metta World Peace, Andrew Goudelock and Josh McRoberts) needs to be just as energetic as they were against the Los Angeles Clippers. Fisher needs to step up and remain open for that open look shot. Barnes needs to continue to drive the ball. Bynum and Gasol need to dominate the paint. Finally, Kobe needs to be Kobe.

Play All Four Quarters: Last week’s road trip against Miami and Orlando was difficult to watch as the Lakers seemed to fall apart. The team lacked energy and drive in each of the quarters of those games. One of the keys to playing all four quarters with consistency is to shoot the ball well. When the Lakers fall behind, they tend to retreat to ill-advised shots, with three-pointers and long jumpers. The Lakers need to be aware of their shot selection, by pushing the ball down low, driving the ball and looking for the open man. The Wolves are 1-5 when allowing their opponents to shoot for 45 percent or higher from the field. If the Lakers maintain energy and a solid shooting percentage, a victory will be well within reach.

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