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With the three teams in front of them losing last night, the Lakers have a chance to make up major ground in the Western Conference standings. In their next eight games, LA has six contests against less than elite competition. Will tonight's game against the Wolves be the beginning of the big push?
7:30 PST on TNT and TWC Sportsnet
It's hard to say that the Lakers begin the most crucial part of their season when, well, seemingly every other week is another turning point. But in a year littered with injuries, poor coaching, on-court chemistry issues, locker room chemistry issues and soundbytes from fathers, there's finally a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
The Lakers begin a stretch of six eminently winnable games in their next eight bouts. After tonight, LA will play home and away against Atlanta, as well as in STAPLES against Toronto and at Orlando and New Orleans. Last evening's slate of games featured losses by all three teams directly in front of the Show, with Houston, Utah and Golden State all falling. Even coming off a tough second night of a back to back loss against the Nuggets, the Lakers will look to tonight's game against Minnesota as a major jumping off point to get into the Western Conference playoff bracket.
As cursed as the season's been in Los Angeles, Minnesota's juju reeks even more. Anything and everything has gone wrong for the Timberwolves. All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Love has missed all but nine games due to breaking and re-breaking his right hand, while future star Ricky Rubio has been uneven in his return from a torn ACL. The injuries haven't stopped with the stars; Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee have gone down with knee troubles, while Brandon Roy continues to prove to people everywhere with how unfair life is, his career in jeopardy yet again due to bum knees. Former second overall pick Derrick Williams simply hasn't been able to step up in anyone's stead, with an inconsistent three-point shot and a much less deft rebounding touch than expected. The defense has been passable, with stalwarts like Andrei Kirlenko and
UFC Heavyweight Champion center Nikola Pekovic anchoring that end of the floor.
However, these Wolves just can't get a scoring rhythm going. Ricky Rubio was supposed to be a terror on the offensive end, with a killer handle and Nash-ian court vision to make any replacement-level player look like a borderline All-Star. Along with Love's absence and coach Rick Adelman missing weeks tending to his sick wife, it's been extremely difficult for Minnesota to establish consistency scoring the ball.
What this all adds up to is a season full of promise that's crumbled under the weight of injuries. The Timberwolves are 3-9 February and fading quickly into the league's basement.
But what's Minnesota's burden is fantastic timing for LA.
Not that it's ever bad timing for the Lakers in regards to the T-Wolves. Since Minnesota's last win on March 6th, 2007 at the Target Center, LA has beaten them 20 straight times, the longest active streak in the NBA. The Show has mastered their heirs in the Land of One Thousand Lakes, last defeating Minny almost a month ago in a closely contested 111-100 win.
Even as foregone as this victory may be, these Lakers have a nasty habit of playing down to their competition. They'll have to score as efficiently and impressively as they did against the Nuggets on Monday and ratchet down the defense on a Wolves team that if rebounding, could get on the break in a hurry. Lakers nemesis and Andrew Bynum immaturity victim J.J. Barea, as well as Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved can exploit LA's terrible transition defense, just as Denver did.
This game should be as easy of a victory as the Lakers have had since destroying the Milwaukee Bucks at home a month ago. This game should be a jumping off point to a run that could propel them into the playoff picture. This game should be the beginning of the most crucial point in the season.
But as we've learned, this Lakers team should be a lot of things that it isn't. Let's hope tonight isn't a test case for that statement.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino
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