The Los Angeles Lakers (20-26) head to Minnesota tonight to face the skidding Minnesota Timberwolves (17-25) at Target Center. After following up a three-game win streak that had Los Angeles buzzing, the Lakers dropped a game in Phoenix on Wednesday, leaving Los Angeles 16 games back in the West. In early January, Minnesota was a team poised to make a run to the playoffs with the return of point guard Ricky Rubio and franchise player Kevin Love. Fast forward to today and the Timberwolves are 1-9 in their last 10 games and have lost Kevin Love until mid-March due to a broken hand. It’s a matchup between two teams heading in the wrong direction, yet two teams that can still make the playoffs in a weak bottom end of the Western Conference.
The Lakers will be without the services of Dwight Howard, who re-aggravated a labrum tear in his right shoulder in Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix. Pau Gasol will make his 27th start of the season and replace Howard at center. The Timberwolves are guard heavy but don’t have a player on their roster that matches up well with Kobe Bryant on defense. Bryant has averaged 12.75 shot attempts in the Lakers’ last four games so expect him to shoot well over that mark if Minnesota fails to find a serviceable defender. Steve Nash has averaged only 3.5 assists per game during Bryant’s four-game assist streak and has been vocal in the media about his ability and desire to have a greater impact on the offense. Look for Nash to be more aggressive on offense, taking more shots and dishing out more assists.
The Timberwolves are playing without a legitimate scoring threat now that Love is hurt and they are struggling to score on a nightly basis. Minnesota ranks 22nd in the league in points per game (94.6) but is staying competitive due to the fact that they give up only 96.8 points a game. They are now led by a trio of NBA veterans: Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, and J.J. Barea. Longtime head coach Rick Adelman keeps their backcourt fresh by rotating multiple guards in and out throughout the game. However, much like the Lakers, transition defense is Minnesota’s Achilles’ heel so Los Angeles needs to get out and run at the Target Center tonight.
#15 World Peace SF #47 Kirilenko
#6 Clark PF #7 Williams
#12 Howard C #14 Pekovic
#24 Bryant SG #13 Ridnour
#10 Nash PG #9 Rubio
The game tips-off at Target Center on ESPN and TWC SportsNet at 6:30PM PT.
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