Lakers - Timberwolves Preview: Ohai, Kurt Rambis

LONDON ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04: Steve Blake (C) of the Los Angeles Lakers in action during the NBA Europe Live match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the O2 arena on October 4 2010 in London England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Tonight the esteemed Los Angeles Lakers play the uh, less-than-esteemed Minnesota Timberwolves in chilly Minnesota. I'll just cut to the chase here and point out the Wolves are bad. Like, really really bad. Indeed, if not for the cursed historically bad Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota would be the worst team in the League in terms of standings. Even advanced metrics such as point differential or the more relevant efficiency differential cannot hide the fact; ranking Minnesota 25th and 27th, respectively. They are on pace to win 19 games this season, and, somewhat amazingly, that is actually an improvement from last season's win total of 15.

The reasons for Minnesota's seemingly pathetically bad level of play despite featuring the killer forward frontline of 20-point-per-game scorer Michael Beasley and beastly Power Forward Kevin Love are numerous and well-known. It starts with GM David Kahn; known for comically bad draft decisions (drafting four point guards in one draft, with the lowest pick, which he traded away, ending up the best), terrible trades, and head-scratching free agent signings (followed by even more head-scratching comments, such as comparing Darko Milicic to Chris Webber). It is then reinforced by the hiring of a coach, ex-Laker player and assistant coach Kurt Rambis; who specialises in running the Triangle Offense, an offensive system completely unsuitable for a point guard like Jonny Flynn. It's then completed by overloading on Point Guards and Small Forwards, with the icing on the cake being employing the grossly inefficient (51.5%TS) Michael Beasley as the primary scoring option (leading them in scoring per-36). Charming.

The task of guarding Michael Beasley will likely be given to Ron Artest; whom Beasley probably still holds a grudge against for Artest's comment that Michael 'only has one move'. It seems evident that, whatever that move is, Artest has it figured out; as although Beasley scores above his season average against the Lakers, he does so on an ugly 40% from the field. Beasley is not a transcendent talent like Durant, Carmelo or LeBron; and his young, brash nature is ripe for the picking by Ron Artest's bully-mentality. Beasley would be the sixth or seventh-best player on the Lakers, and isn't much to worry about. Need more proof? Oh, and the dude looks like this

Other than Beasley, their only other scoring option is the well-known Kevin Love..Love is a versatile offensive player, with a few post moves and range extending to the three-point line. He is arguably the best rebounder the League has seen since the Rodman/Moses Malone days, and he's also coming off a 37-23 game (!!!) on 13 shots (!!!!!) against the Golden State Warriors (/Warriors-stat-inflation-disclaimer). Counterbalancing all this is the fact that the Lakers absolutely shut him down last game, with the Odom-Gasol combination holding him to absolutely zero points and a measly-by-his-standards 7 rebounds. Granted, this was after he lighted L.A up for 23 and 24 in the first meeting of the two squads, but even then his 12-point, 15-rebound averages against the Lakers are manageable, particularly considering the Lakers did not have Bynum for any of the prior two meetings.

The Timberwolves truly do have no scoring whatsoever after those two, with the remainder of the roster only featuring two players who just barely scrape into double digits in Martell Webster and Luke Ridnour. Webster is an athletic slasher and solid three-point shooter, but not really an offensive creator. Ridnour is a good spot-up shooter and can occasionally score in the point - he is also a solid ball-distributor, but not a significant scoring option.

Defensively, the Lakers should assign Odom to Love again, hoping he repeats his performance last matchup; but simultaneously, rebounding must be a collective effort, as Love is a bull, significantly bigger than Odom. Love is almost single-handedly the key to the Timberwolves' League-leading success on the offensive glass, as no other Timberwolf averages anything even approaching double-digit rebounding. Remove him from the equation, and a key aspect of the Timberwolves' offense is removed. Artest should be fine without help on Beasley; and other than that there's not too much to look out for. The Timberwolves are an efficient team from deep, but don't take an exceptional amount of shots from there - nonetheless, the Lakers should keep an eye on Wayne Ellington, Anthony Tolliver and Luke Ridnour on the perimeter (as well as simply sticking to Love everywhere).

On the offensive side of things, no Laker has a particularly difficult matchup. Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster will probably take up the bulk of duties on Kobe; and while both are above-average defenders, neither is exceptional. Love is not renowned for his defense, but his bulk advantage may pose a problem to Pau. Pau can counteract this by using his superior agility and getting his points on the move. Pau should be especially motivated after being humiliated last matchup by Darko Milicic, of all people. Milicic is a true Center with respectable bulk, and a solid defender. No cakewalk for Bynum, it shall be interesting to see if Andrew uses his momentum from last game to continue his strong play. Milicic is also a very good shot-blocker, so Lakers perimeter players must watch out for him when driving to the hole.

All-in-all, it's fairly evident the Timberwolves are one of the worse teams in the League by a long shot; and in a perfect world this matchup should be no problem for the Lakers; nor indeed do I anticipate it being so. The Lakers have been executing passably on their offense since the All-Star Break, and have displayed an ability to lock down on defense when necessary. Even if they haven't necessarily flipped the switch all the way, on most nights they wouldn't need to to beat the Timberwolves. The Lakers are two-and-a-half games out of the #2 seed in the League behind San Antonio, and if they wish to catch that seed and thus secure HCA against the likes of Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Miami; they absolutely must win games like this from here on out. Let's see how  serious they are.

Lakers

Timberwolves

RECORD

42-19 (6)

14-46 (29)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.2 (4)

-6.0 (25)

PACE

91.1 (20)

96.6 (1)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.8 (2)

104.8 (24)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.63 (4)

14.98 (30)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.296 (17)

0.286 (23)

Free-Throw %

77.8 (10)

77.3 (11)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.221 (15)

0.228 (14)

3PT% (Off.)

35.5 (16)

37.5 (6)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.74 (10)

48.21 (25)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.1 (10)

52.6 (24)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.71 (5)

30.29 (1)

DEFENSIVE RATING

105.0 (10)

110.9 (26)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

12.89 (21)

13.10 (17)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.235 (1)

0.335 (26)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.243 (23)

0.242 (21)

3PT% (Def.)

34.1 (6)

37.6 (27)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.38 (8)

51.05 (24)

True Shooting% (Def.)

52.0 (5)

56.0 (26)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.50 (21)

73.65 (15)

 

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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