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