Showtime: 5:00 pm PT
Plot: The Lakers have been a mess lately. They're on a six game losing streak and losers of 18 in their last 21 games. They've given up over 100 points in 14 straight contests, including disgraceful home losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers. It's been a horrible, ghastly season...but somehow, tonight may be the worst game yet.
LA embarks on yet another road trip, this time a three gamer that will take them to Cleveland, Philadelphia and of course tonight in Minneapolis. They'll be without Pau Gasol, who will not play in the next three games at the very least with a strained groin.
However, the Lakers will see the return of both Steve Nash and Steve Blake and even possibly Jordan Farmar, three point guards which the team has sorely needed as Jodie Meeks, Nick Young and Manny Harris run the second unit out of desperation. There's no telling how effective each player will be, if at all, or what their minute limit will be despite the lack of bodies. At best, the Lakers will have just 12 semi-healthy bodies tonight, several of which will be severely hobbled regardless of whether or not they're wearing warm-ups.
Despite the returns of Nash, Blake and Farmar, I expect the Lakers to be an absolute mess tonight. Just as we saw when Kobe Bryant returned back in December, in a Mike D'Antoni system is only as effective as the lead ball handler allows it to be. Regardless of which Steve is running the show, I cannot imagine a scenario where the offense runs as smoothly as it has under the hand of Kendall Marshall, nor do I expect team turnovers to be anywhere south of 15. In the NBA, as this season and last season have shown us, adding a player isn't mixing and matching Legos--it's complex chemistry. Teammates have to re-learn how to play with returning players, a process that is never an easy, one-game solution. Fitting in not one, but perhaps three lead ball handlers and subtracting a gigantic offensive piece like Gasol should be a titanic test for the Lakers. One which I expect to be a full-on disaster.
The Timberwolves have been a disappointment this season with a 23-24 record, with their mediocrity spilling over to 2014 as they play .500 in the new year. They even have the ignominious distinction of being one of LA's 16 victories this season, in a late-December 104-91 loss. The Lakers won that game by shooting lights out that evening, hitting over 53% of their shots against a truly horrible Minnesota defense. It's hard to say that much has changed since that contest, as the Wolves defend incredibly inconsistently night to night. Even if they're not tripping all over themselves, the Lakers will have to hope that they catch Minny in one of their game-long defensive lapses. They'll also have to watch out for All-Star starter Kevin Love, who is coming off of a 43 point, 19 rebound game versus the Atlanta Hawks and has scored no less than 28 points in his last four games.
This should be a hard game--hard to win and hard to watch. The adjustment period for the returning point guards should be absolutely brutal, as it was when Kobe came back months ago.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino