If you were under the impression that there's no way things could get any worse than the annual "Insanely Embarrassing Loss To Eastern Conference Gutter Team That The Lakers Aren't Actually Embarrassed About Or Else They Wouldn't Do It Annually" game, you probably find yourself awash in a world of unpredictable and uncomfortable rumors right now. First, there's the rumor that certain elements of the team are considering a full blown offensive mutiny, ready to ditch the sheet of paper that serves as Mike Brown's offensive playbook and go back to the geometry that won them fancy rings. Now, courtesy of Roland Lazenby, the oft melodramatic yet accurate scribe who seems dedicated to shining the light on the Lakers dysfunctional front office, we have rumors of an imminent trade involving the lovable but under-performing Pau Gasol.
Nobody else has confirmed in the slightest Lazenby's information, and Lazenby himself was quick to stem the tide by mentioning something about Chris Paul and official trades. I'm the first to admit I'm not a huge fan of the tone of Lazenby's work, it seems pretty clear he's got more of an agenda than just a guy who's paid to pay attention to the team, but his analytical offerings about the Lakers front office have always ended up being more accurate than I was willing to give credit for, so it's hard to outright dismiss what the man is saying.
Which means it will be hard to outright dismiss the idea that Pau Gasol will be traded shortly. It will be especially hard for that idea to be dismissed in the mind of one Pau Gasol.
That might end up a real shame, because there are two truths regarding Pau Gasol's play this season: The first is that he's not been nearly as good or as aggressive as we've come to expect from him over the nearly four seasons he's spent in a Lakers uniform. Second, his play, or perhaps more appropriately his level of engagement, has improved dramatically of late, not so coincidentally occurring around the same time Kobe Bryant demanded clarity regarding Pau Gasol's situation from the front office. That clarity never came, so it's not like today's trip 'round the rumor mill does anything to change a situation we've known about all season long, but it may well derail the mental focus Gasol has worked on after Mr. Mamba's show of support.
Or even worse, the rumor could be dead accurate and the Lakers might be short one big man by tipoff. Who the hell knows anything anymore? Regardless, whether the Lakers are blessed with focused Pau, burdened with mopey Pau, or suffering with no Pau, there is a game of basketball to be played. Games of basketball haven't been happy occasions over the past few days, especially those taking place outside the friendly confines of Staples Center. Well, today's game happens to be taking place in the most unfamiliar surroundings possible. Minnesota is the most un-LA-like atmosphere that exists in the NBA. It takes place in the NBA's coldest environment, with one of markets furthest away from LA in terms of size as well. Until recently, those discrepancies also included the quality of play. The Timberwolves have been bad for a long, long time, but this year they are merely average, which is a huge achievement for head coach Rick Adelman (oh ... what might have been) in his first year with the team.
The Lakers beat the T-Wolves pretty badly just over a week ago, a game I happily attended. However, virtually no stock can be taken from that game because a) the Wolves were without Kevin Love, and he means as much or more to Minnesota than just about any other player in the league and b) the Lakers were at home, which... well we've already been over that haven't we. I'd place tonight's contest at about 50:50, as winnable as it is losable under any circumstances. If Kobe comes correct and gets a great game from one big man or good games from both, and some contributions from the small forward of choice and other bench contributors, the Lakers will be a tough out, as they always are. If the proverbial regression to the mean for The Masked Mamba continues, and the rest of the team keep up with the lazy and uninspired ball, the Lakers will lose badly, as is their wont on the road.
Considering the Lakers have recently failed to beat two teams well out of the (L)Eastern Conference playoff race on the road, you'd think expecting a victory in tonight's road contest against a fringe WC playoff team might be unlikely, but one has to expect the Lakers to recover some small amount of their pride after the horibawful transgressions of Wednesday night and put up a decent, full-effort type of performance. Those usually result in wins for this squad, but with the lack of talent outside the top three, nothing is guaranteed.
Sadly, tonight, the top three itself isn't even guaranteed, but the season stops for no one.