Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers face the Minnesota Timberwolves for the third time in three weeks. In order to ensure the experience doesn't get stale, the Lakers decided to make a few changes yesterday that will ensure a brand new experience. OK, so I'm sure tonight's repeat opponent had nothing to do with the Lakers' acquisitions of Ramon Sessions, Jordan HIll, and Christian Eyenga, but that doesn't change the fact that the Lakers will feature a new look tonight. Unfortunately, that new look will not include the new faces, as it's been reported that the three new players won't be ready to suit up until Sunday.
No matter. Tonight, we get a first glimpse at a squad that has improved on the court by sacrificing off of it. How will the Lakers respond to the trade of team leader and team anchor Derek Fisher? Will Steve Blake, who is sure to play big, big minutes, rise to the occasion and pressure the coaching staff into easing Sessions into the team with strong play of his own? And, the most important question of all ... with the monkey of possible impending departure off his back, will Pau Gasol find the effectiveness that has been a staple of his career in Los Angeles prior to this season?
That last question, more than having Sessions on the team, more than losing Fisher, will prove vital to determining whether or not the Lakers can make a run at another title this season.
So, even though Sessions won't suit up, even though we won't get a glimpse of whether Hill or Eyenga might be molded into keepers off the bench, we can still get a glimpse of the after-effects of yesterday's down-to-the-wire actions of the Lakers front office. One game will most certainly not be enough to determine whether The Spaniard's focus will now go to full throttle, but if you see a big floppy haired bearded man take the court with a little spring in his step tonight, it will be a good sign of things to come.
As for the Wolves, their last loss to our home team came with a added dose of misery, in the form of a season ending injury to Ricky Rubio. The injury, a torn ACL, is tragic for fans of all kinds, both because nobody likes to see anybody go down like that, and because Rubio was richly deserving of the league-wide fan favorite status he has acquired. Players like him make the game more enjoyable, and we're all worse off for his absence.
Oh, and the Wolves also lost the game, not to mention the previous 16 times these two squads have faced each other. Prior to this year, a streak like that made perfect sense, but the Wolves have not been pushovers. Prior to Rubio's injury, they seemed likely to squeak into the playoffs. Post injury, their chances are bit bleaker, but with Denver's curious trade deadline moves, it remains possible that the Nuggets could collapse down the stretch. That said, the Wolves lost to the Hornets at home the night after losing Rubio against LA, and have lost to Utah on the road since. Those are the types of games a team fighting for playoff entrance must win. Compounding matters further, the Wolves failed to address their ironic need for another point guard (didn't they have like 5 at one point) at the trade deadline, a move (or lack thereof) which prevents Michael Beasley from making the smooth transition from one team to another without having to make separate travel arrangements. If trading away Derek Fisher has given us all complex and confusing emotions, imagine how weird it would be if he were still in the building tonight, sitting with the visitor's bench ...
So there's little in the way of fresh analysis to run through. This is a familiar opponent, one the Lakers should beat comfortably in their weakened state, though this will (hopefully) be the first of the three games in which Kevin Love suits up, having missed the other two with two separate and trivial injuries. But there are plenty of storylines to keep us engaged, plenty of reason for us to pay attention. Whatever the Lakers are destined for this season, we get to start learning about it tonight.