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Preview: Lakers vs. Timberwolves

From climbing higher up the playoff ladder to fighting to hold on to the 8th spot, the Lakers (36-35) have put themselves back into the "are they making the playoffs?" discussion.

After starting the month of March 7-2 and taking over the 8th seed from Utah, the purple and gold have lost their last 3 games catapulted by a lackluster performance in Phoenix a week ago. Kobe Bryant believes that his and Pau Gasol's return to the lineup has caused a shift in the team's offensive rhythm leading to a disastrous trip in Oakland on Monday against the Warriors.

But there's no sign of Kobe's injury hindering his game at all. In fact, he's back to being the team's main facilitator, and the Lakers look like they've adjusted back to that just fine. But Pau is a different story.

Gasol is playing like he had missed 20 games. His legs are just flat and aren't giving him the proper lift (not that he had a lot to begin with) on his jumpshots and rebounding. However, he's only logging in an average of 21.5 minutes in the 2 games he's been back. So, he's not on the floor long enough to really throw off the offense to affect how the team is putting up points on the scoreboard.

Defense is the true concern for the Lakers. And if they don't do something about committing their efforts on that end of the floor, the Lakers are going to be in deep, deep trouble in the playoffs.

Tonight, hopefully, they can start heading into the right frame of mind despite against a team they've beaten…ohhh, the last 21 meetings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves (25-44) have not improved much since the Lakers last saw them. They've lost 10 of their last 14 games since a 116-94 loss against the Lakers at the Target Center back in February.

The T'Wolves did upset San Antonio in this building during that stretch of 14 games, so this is by far not a safe game for the Lakers, especially the way they've been playing lately.

Ricky Rubio easily had his best game of the season versus the Spurs earning himself a triple-double of 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. But Rubio has yet to get anywhere near those points and rebounding numbers against the Lakers. Rubio is averaging just 11 points, 6 boards and 10 assists versus L.A. this year. Will he get it tonight? Probably not. Then again, Rubio hasn't exactly been the top problem for the Lakers against this team. That honor goes to a couple of players.

Since Kevin Love went down with a broken hand injury, Derrick Williams has been flourishing. Versus the Lakers, he's getting 15 points and 8.5 rebounds a game this season. He doesn't have a strong post-up game, but he likes to take that mid-range jumper and attack the rim when he sees an opening. So far, he's been doing it well against the purple and gold.

Former Maverick J.J. Barea has been killing the Lakers since his days in Dallas. He averages 17 points on 58.3% shooting the last 2 meetings, including a 20-point outing at Staples Center the last game. Not only is he quick and burly, he's also aggressive and fearless going into the paint to take those floaters over those tall defenders. Definitely not someone the Lakers would like to see get hot coming off the bench.

But the plot in this game is seeing if the Lakers can finally get themselves back up and start winning again.

Asked by the media during practice yesterday about concerns of losing their hold of the 8th spot, Kobe Bryant simply said, "Do I look worried?"

Despite their 3-game losing streak, the Lakers are still a game ahead of Utah in the final seed for the playoffs. The Jazz do own the tie-breaker over L.A., but they have to either match the Lakers' record at the end of the regular season or have a better record overall to steal the 8th seed back. The trouble their for the Jazz is they haven't been playing well for several weeks now, and their remaining road games are a little tougher than the Lakers. Not to mention that they still have the Thunder and Nuggets to deal with at home.

That being said, the Lakers have the resurging Mavericks, Clippers, Trailblazers (in Portland), Warriors, Spurs and Rockets in the coming weeks. They're 7-10 combined against these teams this season. That makes the rest of this 4-game road trip a must-win.

Talks about the Lakers needing to take that one big step forward have been non-stop all season-long. Everyone thought that they've finally gotten there once they started playing better as a team after the All-Star break. But the last 3 games saw them still having trouble adjusting and still confused about what they needed to do defensively.

That can't continue to happen if the Lakers want to go deep into the playoffs…or even make it to the playoffs.

Tonight is the 3rd and final meeting of the season versus Minnesota. The Lakers look to take the season series for the 6th-consecutive time. L.A. haven't lost at Target Center since March 6, 2007.

INJURY UPDATE — Metta World Peace: An MRI taken on Metta's left knee revealed a meniscus tear. He'll fly back to L.A. to get examined by team doctor Steve Lombardo to see the extent of the damage and when he's expected back.

Matchup of the Game

Lakers Bench vs. Timberwolves Bench: In the last 5 games, no other 2nd unit for any team in the NBA has jumped up the scoring column more than the Lakers and T'Wolves. For the year, the Lakers bench is averaging 26.9 points a game with Minnesota's 2nd unit getting 33.8 points. During the last 5 games, L.A. bench is up to 31 points per game (18th), but the T'Wolves reserves are tops in the league averaging 44.4 points an outing. The game could be decided on which team gets more out of their bench tonight.

Keys to the Game

> Complete Game: Lakers fans should not get excited should the Lakers come out strong and build a double-digit lead early. Unless the Timberwolves don't show up at all (which is not likely for a team coached by Rick Adelman), the Lakers will need to bring it from the opening tip all the way to end of the game.

> Contain Point Guards: Both Rubio and Barea should be the key focus for the defense tonight. No doubt these guys will push the ball up the court and penetrate to dish the ball back out to open shooters. The Lakers will need to be very active defensively but do it smart, especially with Metta World Peace not in action tonight.

> Slow It Down: After seeing the Lakers continue to fall into that speed trap by the Warriors Monday night, look for Minnesota to emulate that strategy. If L.A. learned anything in their last loss, they have to stay disciplined and poised in their offensive attack. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't run the ball or take a wide-open look early in the shot clock if they get an excellent opportunity to do so, but they have to be intent in starting their offense from the post and score based on what the defense gives them.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Kobe Bryant: The last 3 games, especially against Golden State, haven't been sitting well for Vino. But how he approaches this game tonight could be the biggest key in how this game will end up for the Lakers. Will he take it upon himself to establish how the Lakers will run their offense from here on out or will he decide to take over the scoring load early — especially if Adelman continues to put Rubio at the 2 spot.

TIMBERWOLVES: J.J. Barea: This guy just loves and know how to attack the Lakers. If he gets it going, rest assured the rest of his teammates will follow soon enough.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Minnesota Timberwolves
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. (PST)
Target Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) and Metta World Peace (knee) are out.

TIMBERWOLVES: Malcom Lee (hip/knee), Kevin Love (hand) and Brandon Roy (knee) are out.
 

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Preview: Lakers vs. Timberwolves

Just when you think the Lakers (20-26) have finally turned a corner, they proved against Phoenix on Wednesday that they're still far from being a playoff-caliber team. Turnovers didn't exactly keep them from winning the last 3-game stint at home. But in this league, they can be fatal on the road no matter the opposition is.

The Lakers travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves (17-25) in their 2nd of 7 games of their "Grammy tour". Like the purple and gold, the T'Wolves are finding it tough to win in 2013 having taken only 3 of their 15 games so far. Then again, they're missing both Kevin Love and Brandon Roy.

Love re-fractured his right hand against Portland early January and is expected to be out for nearly the rest of the regular season. He was averaging 18.3 points and 14 rebounds per game before going down with the injury. Roy has had a long battle with knee problems since college and it's resurfacing again. He's played in only 5 games averaging 5.8 points a game for Minnesota this season.

Meanwhile, Dwight Howard has been officially listed as day-to-day after having his right shoulder examined on Thursday. He's questionable for tonight's game, but Mike D'Antoni might ask him to sit this one out to give him more time to rest before Sunday's matchup in Detroit. Howard re-injured his shoulder almost halfway through the 4th quarter against the Suns when Shannon Brown blocked his shot attempt. Dwight was on the floor for a few seconds but never returned.

With 36 games left and at least 6 games to make up to reach the 8th spot in the west, the Lakers have very little room, if any, for anymore losses. They have to capitalize against an injury-riddled team tonight and make sure they get the win on Sunday versus a 17-29 Pistons team. That's because they have Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami to deal with in the coming days before heading back to Los Angeles.

The loss in Phoenix was a tough one to take, but they have to shake that off and continue to play on both sides of the floor as a team. It's very important for the Lakers to really start taking each game from here on out very seriously. They have to find a way to come together and develop a killer instinct even if it means ignoring tired legs and whatever little aches and pains they may have. If they fail to improve as a team in this road trip, they probably never will.

This is the 1st of 3 meetings against the Timberwolves and the 1st of 2 at Target Center this season. They'll go at it again on Feb. 28th at Staples Center. The Lakers will try to continue their mastery over Minnesota with their 20th-straight victory. The last time they lost to the T'Wolves was way back on March 6, 2007. The Timberwolves have lost 5 in a row and are 11-8 at home this season. The Lakers are looking to snap their 8-game losing streak on the road.

Matchup of the Game

Steve Nash vs. Ricky Rubio: Neither point guard are known for their defense, but this is going to come down to whichever one can contribute more on offense. Nash has taken on a role of a shooting guard of late averaging 13.7 points on 56.7% shooting from the field and only 3.5 assists per game. Rubio has only scored in double figures just once this season (14 points) and is getting only 5.1 points and 5.2 assists a game on average. But that doesn't mean he won't have his best game of the season tonight. Nash will have to make sure he makes his open shots and play hard on defense.

Keys to the Game

> Rebounding: The T'Wolves are a good rebounding team averaging 43.9 boards a game. Even without Love, their frontcourt players are all solid under the glass because they're physical and work hard in chasing those missed shots. The Lakers have to box out and rebound as a team, especially if Howard doesn't play tonight.

> Stay Focused: The meltdown in the 4th quarter was all due to losing sight of what they needed to do to preserve their lead. The Lakers have to come out ready to play on both ends of the court and sustain it until the final buzzer.

> Balanced Attack: Minnesota is actually a statistically better defensive team than the Lakers allowing 96.8 points per game from their opponents compared to 100.9 for the purple and gold. But the Lakers are loaded with players who can score in the paint and outside. They have to use that to their advantage with excellent ball and player movement.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Pau Gasol: If Dwight's out, then Pau will take over in the middle for him. Gasol hasn't stopped expressing his disapprovement for getting left out in the 4th quarter by D'Antoni. Well, he's got a shot tonight in making his case that he needs to be on the floor when it counts. Let's see if he takes advantage of it.

TIMBERWOLVES: Nikola Pekovic: This guy is a 6' 11" and 290-pound of physicality. Love may be the star of the show but Pekovic is the anchor down-low. He averages 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds this season. With Howard hurt, he could be the key player for the T'Wolves tonight.

Game Info

Tonight @ Minnesota Timberwolves
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. (PST)
Target Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)/ESPN (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) is out for remainder of season. Dwight Howard (shoulder) is questionable.

TIMBERWOLVES: Chase Budinger (knee), Malcome Lee (knee, hip), Kevin Love (hand) and Brandon Roy (knee) are all out.

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Preview: Lakers vs. Timberwolves

(NBAE/Getty Images)

This is the last stop of this 3-game road trip for the Lakers (10-2) as they head over to the city of their origin to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-9). A win would give the defending champs their 13th overall and 6th victory over Minnesota at the Target Center. The Lakers won their first meeting of the season at Staples Center last week by only 5 points, so they shouldn’t take this young Wolves team lightly. But if they come out like they did against the Pistons on Wednesday, then the trip back to L.A. should be a pleasant one.

The T’Wolves are coming off a 2-point win over the Clippers on Wednesday and are currently 3-2 at home. The Lakers boast a 4-1 record on the road and have won their last two games by an average of 17 points while scoring at an average of 49.2% and holding their opponent at 42.7% per game. Minnesota has the worst defense in the league giving up 109.8 while putting up 101 points per outing. However, their strength is rebounding and are currently the second best in the NBA at 46.2 RPG.

Kevin Love has a lot to do with the T’Wolves success around the boards being the top rebounder averaging 9.4 rebounds and 4.9 offensive boards per game. Love became the first player since Charles Barkley in 1996 and the first in franchise history to post at least 30 points and 30 rebounds in a single game against the Knicks just 3 days after their loss against the Lakers. It would be an understatement to say that Love cannot be allowed to grab a lot of rebounds tonight. But, he’s only the first guy to be worried about.

Michael Beasley is also on a tear of late being the first player since Kevin Garnett to post at least 25 points in 5 straight games. He’s their leading scorer averaging 22.2 PPG shooting at a nice 49.8% from the field. Unfortunately, he’ll be defended by Ron Artest. Last time these two guys saw one another, Artest held him to just 17 points shooting 40% (6-15) of his shot attempts. Beasley may have the size, but he’s a faceup player who prefer shooting outside the paint.

Eventhough Minnesota share the same Triangle system as the Lakers, they’ll have two major headaches to deal with tonight in the form of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Kobe is the 3rd leading scorer in the league averaging 26.3 PPG but has scored less than 31 points just once the past 5 games. He is also rebounding and passing out assists at a higher than normal rate of 5.6 boards and 5.6 assists per game. His running mate Pau is currently the 2nd leading scorer among the NBA’s power forwards behind Dirk Nowitzki putting up 22.9 PPG plus 12.2 RPG and 1.5 BPG. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Minnesota in their last matchup.

Being the final game of the road trip, there’s a chance the Lakers might come out flat and disinterested. But, I don’t think Phil Jackson will allow them to settle in at all until the job is done. It will be all about dominating the boards and the paint on both sides of the floor for the purple and gold tonight. If they focus on those two areas early and often and hound the T’Wolves on defense, this game should be over before halftime.

Matchup of the Game

Lamar Odom vs. Kevin Love: If Odom puts up a good double-double tonight and keeps Love below his game average, this matchup will go in favor of the Lakers. But, this isn’t the same guy Lamar saw last week so Odom has to be prepared to work a little harder tonight.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense

1. Inside-Out: A steady look in the post from Pau and Lamar should be enough to pressure Minnesota’s interior defense. Darko Millicic is a good shot-blocker but is foul trouble magnet. A few pumpfakes should get him off of his feet every time.
2. Kobe Bryant: Look for him to go off again. If he does, this game should be over in a jiffy.
3. Take Good Shots: Problems will arise if the Lakers don’t shoot well against the second best rebounding team in the league. Run the offense and there shouldn’t be too much of an issue against the worst defense in the NBA.

Defense

1. Rebound!: Can’t let Love do his thing around the glass or it will be hard to put away this T’Wolves team.
2. Protect the Paint: Dribble penetration is the best chance for Minnesota against the Lakers. The backcourt for the Lakers has to be aware of that at all times.
3. Lock-up Beasley: Artest will have the duty of guarding their leading scorer. But it shouldn’t be a problem for one of the league’s top defender.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 5:00 p.m. (PST).  TV: KCAL-9 (local)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

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Preview: Lakers vs. Timberwolves

This is the final real road game for the Lakers before they head home for Portland, Sacramento, and the Clippers (dubbed as a road game) to end the regular season. The Lakers (55-23) only needs one more win to clinch best record in the west, but that is proving to be an elusive goal. They had a chance against the Spurs last Sunday and against the Nuggets last night but could not muster enough good basketball to win either game.

Not having Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in Denver and tonight in Minnesota will not make that clinch any easier. But at this point, Kobe’s rest is a far more important agenda to deal with since they are lock for playoffs participation. It looks like Phil isn’t expecting anything bigger from his team other than continue to prepare for the first round.

The Lakers only lost by two points against the Nuggets despite not having two of their starters because they actually played some good basketball on both sides of the court. Of course, their effort fell a little too short but, at least, they didn’t just punched in and out.

In the process, they also proved that Denver still gets rattled too easily when they’re facing a solid defense and an an offense that execute well. Taking over the lead after erasing a 15-point deficit say the Nuggets aren’t as improved as most people think.

But let’s not worry too much about what the other team can and cannot do. It’s all about our Lakers and what they need to do now.

They have a good chance at working on their interior defense as well as their inside-out execution on offense against Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. These guys are undersized but talented big men that can do a lot of things on both sides of the floor. The T’Wolves also have a good up-and-coming point guard in Jonny Flynn as well as a good group of role players.

The Lakers defeated Minnesota 106-94 last month at Staples Center but not after giving up their 13-point lead because they couldn’t keep their intensity and focus. Without Kobe and Andrew, they cannot afford to do that tonight.

Phil Jackson (and most Laker fans) have not given up on the team turning things around before it’s too late. At this point, Phil is now managing his players health while maintaining his mission to keep pushing this team for the playoffs. It’s also possible that he is setting up his rotation and playbook for the first round based on what he’ll be seeing out of his players until then.

Some are saying that he is ruining the team’s chemistry by resting Kobe. I say that’s full of baloney. This team has been together for years and know what to expect when Bryant and Bynum return. Kobe doesn’t need all of this to be effective in the playoffs and Andrew knows his role better than some people give him credit for.

It may not look like it, but the Lakers are fully aware of what they have to work on for the playoffs. But, let’s see what they learned from last night’s loss against the T’Wolves.

GO LAKERS!!!

Preview: Lakers vs. Timberwolves

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This is the final real road game for the Lakers before they head home for Portland, Sacramento, and the Clippers (dubbed as a road game) to end the regular season. The Lakers (55-23) only needs one more win to clinch best record in the west, but that is proving to be an elusive goal. They had a chance against the Spurs last Sunday and against the Nuggets last night but could not muster enough good basketball to win either game.

Not having Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in Denver and tonight in Minnesota will not make that clinch any easier. But at this point, Kobe’s rest is a far more important agenda to deal with since they are lock for playoffs participation. It looks like Phil isn’t expecting anything bigger from his team other than continue to prepare for the first round.

The Lakers only lost by two points against the Nuggets despite not having two of their starters because they actually played some good basketball on both sides of the court. Of course, their effort fell a little too short but, at least, they didn’t just punched in and out.

In the process, they also proved that Denver still gets rattled too easily when they’re facing a solid defense and an an offense that execute well. Taking over the lead after erasing a 15-point deficit say the Nuggets aren’t as improved as most people think.

But let’s not worry too much about what the other team can and cannot do. It’s all about our Lakers and what they need to do now.

They have a good chance at working on their interior defense as well as their inside-out execution on offense against Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. These guys are undersized but talented big men that can do a lot of things on both sides of the floor. The T’Wolves also have a good up-and-coming point guard in Jonny Flynn as well as a good group of role players.

The Lakers defeated Minnesota 106-94 last month at Staples Center but not after giving up their 13-point lead because they couldn’t keep their intensity and focus. Without Kobe and Andrew, they cannot afford to do that tonight.

Phil Jackson (and most Laker fans) have not given up on the team turning things around before it’s too late. At this point, Phil is now managing his players health while maintaining his mission to keep pushing this team for the playoffs. It’s also possible that he is setting up his rotation and playbook for the first round based on what he’ll be seeing out of his players until then.

Some are saying that he is ruining the team’s chemistry by resting Kobe. I say that’s full of baloney. This team has been together for years and know what to expect when Bryant and Bynum return. Kobe doesn’t need all of this to be effective in the playoffs and Andrew knows his role better than some people give him credit for.

It may not look like it, but the Lakers are fully aware of what they have to work on for the playoffs. But, let’s see what they learned from last night’s loss against the T’Wolves.

GO LAKERS!!!

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