Lakers - Timberwolves Preview: Fly Meet Swatter


Tonight the defending champs take on perenial doormat, the Minnesota Timberwolvesfor the fourth and final time this season.  The Lakers enter tonight's contest having won 10 of 11 games since the All-Star break including impressive road wins over fellow Western conference heavyweights Dallas and San Antonio.  Meanwhile the Timberwolves limp into the game with second worst record in the conference.  The Lakers have won each of the three previous games against the Wolves this season and are expected to finish the season sweep tonight against a team that is simply outsized and outskilled.

The Lakers boast the biggest and most talented front line rotation in the league.  Andrew Bynum's emergence as the league's second best defensive anchor has taken what was already a solid defensive team and transformed them into an elite one.  Bynum has officially declared the basket a "no fly zone" where all opposition is met with quick and forceful resistance.  On the perimeter Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant have showed renewed focus on defense, making it tougher to even get into the paint to begin with.  The Lakers have truly "flipped the switch" defensively since the All star break and put the league on notice that the title still goes through the two-time champs.

This doesn't bode well for the Timberwolves who have very little talent on the roster outside of Kevin Love.  A recent study done at basketball-reference.com shows that Kevin Love has accounted for two-thirds of his team's wins this season, a percentage high enough for 4th in league history.  To say his help is limited would be an understatement. In fact, of the first three games with the Lakers, the only game that was competitive was the first meeting on November 9th in which Love had a monster 20-20 game with 23 points and 24 rebounds.  Most importantly though was that 11 of the 24 rebounds were offensive giving the Wolves multiple opportunities to score.  They needed every one that night to keep the game close but ultimately they fell short by a score of 99-95.  In the two subsequent meetings the Lakers employed a new tactic on Love in which the nearest Laker puts a body on Love and focuses on keeping him away from the basket while letting another teammate get the rebound.  The strategy worked as Love recorded only 7 and 11 rebounds in the two subsequent meetings and the Lakers won by more than double digits in each game.  Look for the Lakers to employ the same strategy again tonight.

Other than offensive rebounding, the only strength for the Timberwolves offensively is their three-point shooting.  The Wolves are a very solid three-point shooting team at 37.3% (good for 6th in the league).  Love is an underrated shooter from distance as he has hit 42.2% of his attempts this year.  His range will put a lot of pressure on Gasol to defend him on the perimeter when Bynum is manning the center position.  Love is not the only threat from deep though as Wesley Johnson (36%), Michael Beasley (36%), Luke Ridnour (44%), Martell Webster (38%), Wayne Ellington (42%), Anthony Tolliver (39%), and Sebastian Telfair (36%) are all solid shooters that can't be left open.  The Lakers will have to make a concerted effort to close out on the shooters and make them put the ball on the floor.

The Lakers offensively have too much talent for a Wolves team that is one of the worst in the league defensively.  The Lakers have clear mismatches at every position other than point guard.  The second best player on the Wolves is Michael Beasley but he is not known for his defense.  Darko Milicic mans the middle and while he does have size, Bynum should continue his recent run of dominance.  The Lakers should look to take advantage of their supreme size by feeding the post and working inside out.  If the Lakers continue to play with the focus and effort they have over the last 11 games then this one should be over fairly quickly.  The Wolves should feel like nothing more than an annoying fly waiting to be swat as the champs continue to fine-tune their game for a run at a third straight title.

Statistic

Lakers

Timberwolves

RECORD

48-20 (4)

17-52 (29)

NET POINTS PER GAME

6.5 (4)

-5.4 (25)

PACE

90.6 (22)

96.5 (1)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.6 (2)

104.7 (23)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

0.124 (3)

0.150 (30)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.228 (13)

0.223 (18)

Free-Throw %

0.782 (7)

0.768 (13)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.219 (16)

0.225 (13)

3PT% (Off.)

0.358 (14)

0.373 (6)

Effective FG% (Off.)

0.505 (10)

0.480 (24)

True Shooting% (Off.)

0.548 (11)

0.524 (25)

Off Rebounding Rate

0.298 (3)

0.307 (1)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.5 (7)

110.2 (26)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

0.129 (19)

0.130 (17)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.180 (1)

0.260 (28)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.246 (24)

0.241 (22)

3PT% (Def.)

0.338 (5)

0.367 (19)

Effective FG% (Def.)

0.479 (5)

0.506 (21)

True Shooting% (Def.)

0.516 (3)

0.555 (22)

Def Rebounding Rate

0.724 (20)

0.739 (16)

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