“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow." — Thomas Paine
That quote from Thomas Paine seemed to have become the attitude of the Lakers (28-30) since a 119-108 loss in Denver on Monday. They're no longer sulking in the we-should-haves but embracing the challenges that await them in their hunt for a place in the playoffs.
During their interviews in team practice yesterday, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard shared their new philosophy for the rest of the season starting tonight versus the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34).
While Bryant can't offer anything new that Laker fans don't already know when it comes to understanding how to persevere in the face of adversity, he offered his observation on the outlook of the rest of the team:
“I think everybody is a little edgy and we want to turn things around,” Bryant said. “We want to get to a point where we’re in the postseason and can make some noise.”
Howard has been a popular target of late based on a lot of people's estimation as to which of the Laker superstars isn't giving his all to help the team win. But Dwight seemed to have found a way, at least publicly, to look passed it and turn all the negatives into something positive:
“This is the best life we could ever have,” Howard said. “So there’s no need for us to be mad. We’re not happy we’re in the position we’re in, but we still have a great life. Regardless of what happens tomorrow or the next day, we’re all blessed and we got to live one day at a time and have fun.”
The word "fun" is certainly not a strange language to Howard, who is generally in a playful mood and has been smiling a lot more these days now that the Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season. But Nash has taken that word and put it in perhaps the best form of mantra that the Lakers should follow:
“It’s going to be a tough ride trying to get into the playoffs, but that’s going to make it fun,” Nash said after practice Wednesday. “Let’s try to overcome the odds and try to get back in there and see if we can scare some people.”
If the Lakers do overcome the odds by making it to the playoffs, that means that they have yet to reach their full potential without Pau Gasol. When that happens, there's no doubt they are going to make the top teams in the west look over their shoulders. But the Lakers have to also realize that they have very little room for error and can't take opponents like the Timberwolves any lighter than a team like the Thunder. That's the key in their frame of mind that they have to change starting tonight.
This is the 2nd of 3 meetings and the only game at Staples Center against Minnesota this season. The Lakers are looking for their 21st-straight win against this team and have not dropped a single game to the Timberwolves since a double-overtime loss on March 6, 2007.
Matchup of the Game
Nikola Pekovic vs. Dwight Howard: Gasol was holding the fort down for Howard in the previous game, so it's Dwight's turn now. This could turn out to be an interesting matchup. Despite the Timberwolves losing 9 of their last 12 games in February, Pekovic has been a consistent force for them all year averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and nearly 1 block per game. Against the Lakers last time, he turned in 14 points, 9 boards and a block. But Howard has been playing well lately and hasn't been this active since his return. In the last 10 games, Dwight is getting 15.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. He's facing a strong, rugged defender who loves to use his physicality on anybody he's guarding. Howard's shoulder is still tender enough to concern him each time he gets hit, so we'll see if that will affect his overall game tonight.
Keys to the Game
> Strong Start: The Lakers are facing an injury-riddled team, so this game has that "trap game" element in it. They have to emulate the great start they had in the 1st quarter against this team last time when they hit 71% of their shots. If they take it to the Timberwolves early, this game could be over before lunchbreak.
> Contain Derrick Williams: This guy has responded well since taking over the scoring load for the injured Kevin Love. He averages 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds for the year. Versus the Lakers in the 1st game, he had 15 points and 9 rebounds. Williams can shoot, slash, rebound and is quick and athletic enough to put the ball on the floor. The Lakers have to find a way to make him uncomfortable on offense and put him in a position to defend well.
> Expect a Zone Defense: The Timberwolves cut a 29-point deficit in the 2nd quarter down to just 4 points in the 4th quarter because the Lakers simply could not figure out how to attack the zone defense properly. Here's hoping that Mike D'Antoni worked on a solution and had the team run it in practice yesterday.
Watch Out For
TIMBERWOLVES: Ricky Rubio: The kid from Spain is feeling a lot better lately after returning from a knee injury that he suffered against the Lakers last season. In the last 10 games, he's averaging 13.5 points and 9.6 assists. He felt responsible for his team's slow start offensively against the Lakers in Minnesota, so he could come out aggressive tonight.
LAKERS: Antawn Jamison: Since taking over for Gasol as the go-to guy off the bench, Jamison has answered the bell. In the month of February, he's averaging 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and knocking down 47% of his shots. He was a star for the Lakers last time against the Timberwolves with his 18 points and 7 rebounds. In front of Laker fans at Staples Center tonight, there's no reason for him not to be a huge factor again.
vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)/TNT (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
TIMBERWOLVES: J.J. Barea (foot) is probable. Andrei Kirilenko (calf) is questionable. Malcom Lee (knee/hip), Kevin Love (hand) and Brandon Roy (knee) are out.
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hills (hip) are both out.