Timberwolves Sink Lakers, 120-119

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

The 3-10 Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road to take on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team that is off to the worst in franchise history at 3-12.  Despite the return of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference with our Pups.  The Lakers lottery pick, Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and things have gone from bad to worse for Los Angeles.  As you might expect, the Lakers would receive zero pity points from the Wolves, who continue to take the court with a ton of missing pieces.

The Wolves opened up with a returning Mo Williams at PG, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Lakers came out with Jeremy Lin, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill.

Mo Williams started off the game with the shooter’s touch, scoring 8 of the Pups’ first 13 points.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, Kobe was in the zone to begin the game as well.  Bryant was all over the court, putting up 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in the 1st quarter.  In the final 4-5 minutes of the opening quarter, the Wolves turned the ball over entirely too much (7 in the first quarter) and it led to the Lakes taking a seven point advantage into the second quarter, 30-23.

After falling behind by as many as eleven points, the Wolves went on a small run to cut the Lakers lead down to three, 52-50.  The Wolves were led by Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, who were the only two players doing much of anything on the offensive end of the court.  Heading into a timeout, LaVine had quickly become the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field.

At the half of a relatively exciting and certainly entertaining game, the Lakers held a 58-54 advantage.  While the Wolves were heavily relying on Mo Williams, LaVine, and Bennett, the Lakers were getting contributions across the board.  Six of the ten players that entered the game had scored at least six points for the home team.

The Timberwolves came out and scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 58.  From there, the two teams went toe to toe and bucket for bucket throughout an amazing show of offense in the third quarter.  Basketball purists may also suggest that NBA team defense regressed 25 years as well.  When Wes Johnson is going off, you know there are issues on the defensive end of the court.  The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 39-38 in the third quarter but trailed 96-93 after three quarters.

It looked like the Wolves were in trouble when Nick Young started to get hot and brought the crowd alive in the 4th quarter.  However, Mo Williams answered the call with eight straight points for the Wolves and tied the game at 117.  The play/sequence of the game followed Williams’ last bucket as Kobe got Andrew Wiggins to bite on a few up-fakes and drew a foul.  However, Bryant missed both free throw attempts allowing the Wolves to take a two point lead on a Thad Young bucket.  Kobe tied the game at 119 with another basket but the Wolves had five seconds on the clock to get a shot off.  Flip Saunders drew up a play for Thad and he drew a foul on Nick Young to go to the free throw line.  After missing the first, Young made the second to give the Wolves a 120-119 lead with two seconds left in the game.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Kobe Bryant missed a relatively open three pointer as time expired, giving the Pups the victory, 120-119.  After losing 22 straight to the Lakers, the Timberwolves have now won four of the last five.

Game Notes:

  • The Lakers wore an alternative black t-shirt jersey this evening, which led to the Timberwolves wearing their home white jerseys.  The NBA is confusing.
  • While Wiggins probably had his worst game of the season Friday night, fellow rookie Zach LaVine finished with a career high 28 points on 11-14 shooting.  LaVine of course was returning to the Los Angeles area after his one season at UCLA.
  • If it weren’t for LaVine, Mo Williams would easily be considered the player of the game, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2/1/13

mplslakersThe Los Angeles Lakers visit the Target Center Friday night to face our Pups.  The Wolves enter the match-up on a five game losing streak despite the return of coach Adelman, Pekovic, and Shved on Wednesday night.  They need to fix their problems during the rest of this home stand and start making up ground on the 8 seed in the Western Conference if they have any hope of keeping it interesting going into the spring.

You may have heard about what is going on with the Lakers.  ESPN has started a reality show called “SportsCenter” to cover the trials and tribulations of the team.  Similar to the Pups, I have no idea what to expect from the Lakers night in and night out.  Their January performance reads: lose 6 in a row, win 2, lose 4 (including to Toronto), win 3 (including Oklahoma City), and then a loss on Wednesday night to the Suns, as former Pup Michael Beasley set the house on fire.

While you go ahead and try to predict this game, we’re going to continue our Q&A format for Friday night game previews.  For this Friday’s game we have worked with Alex Lambeth from the Laker Nation blog.

Here’s our Q&A …

Lakers Question #1 for Alex:

Let’s get right to the gorilla in the room; what is your take on Mike D’Antoni and will he be the coach for the Lakers next season?  I’ve always viewed him as the perfect assistant coach who can run the offensive side/end of a practice, similar to an offensive coordinator in the NFL that is terrible when they get a head coaching gig. Your thoughts?

Alex:

I agree with that assessment. Mike D’Antoni was certainly a mistake by the Lakers’ front office this season. Along with his inability to utilize the Lakers’ unique culmination of talent, D’Antoni has remained stubborn in forcing his up-tempo system upon a roster that simply doesn’t fit. D’Antoni’s controversial benching of players late in games, as well as his inability to manage superstars, have also hampered the Lakers’ team chemistry lately. The Lakers, more specifically the players, have since gone away from his failed system and are now finding success with better ball movement and spacing. Kobe Bryant’s facilitating and offensive leadership have spearheaded this newfound success.

The Lakers will not terminate D’Antoni’s three-year contract this season, due to the obvious financial ramifications, but it is certainly possible that D’Antoni is replaced in the off-season. If the Lakers really want to make pending free agent Dwight Howard the future face of the franchise, they may need to bring in a coach with a system more tailored to the Lakers’ premiere big man.

 

Pups Question #1 for John:

After a promising off-season, this regular season has gone in similar fashion as the Lakers’ season. Injuries have played a major factor in this season’s disappointment, but with Kevin Love out at least another five weeks and Brandon Roy still out indefinitely, is there still time to salvage this season? Or is it time to start looking towards next season?

John:

While I am probably not supposed to admit this, I am no longer expecting the Twolves to make the playoffs this season.  At the beginning of the season I went on record saying that they were a lock to make the tournament.  I think it was less than a week after that article went on our site when Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups.  The Wolves are going to need a good amount of help and a lot more luck on their side to sneak into the playoffs.

However, I have a hard time looking towards next season in January/February.  There are still a lot of intriguing storylines for the team; A. Can Rubio return to form, B. Does Love come back this season if the team falls way behind in the standings, and C. Is Derrick Williams on this team after the trade deadline?  I really do not want to think about ping pong balls when this season had so much promise!

 

Lakers Question #2 for Alex:

Will the Lakers’ roster look the same as it currently does after the trading deadline?  Who do you think, if anyone, is the most likely to get moved?  Similarly, what would you do with the roster if you had the reins?

Alex:

The Lakers’ roster should look similar to the current roster after the deadline. Sure, the rumors of Josh Smith have been floating around as of late, but I expect the Lakers to only make a minor move at the deadline, if at all. With the recent return of Steve Blake, reserve point guard Chris Duhon is probably the most likely to be moved. Of the Lakers’ reserves, Duhon is the easiest to trade since his contract is only partially guaranteed for next season. The Lakers in return will most likely seek a backup SF or PF, after backup PF/C Jordan Hill was lost for the season this past month.

Also, just this past week, the Lakers were granted a disabled-player exception worth about $1.8 million for Hill. The exception is another asset the Lakers can possibly use to sign a free agent or to even help facilitate a trade. The Pau Gasol rumors, however, should continue to swirl as the deadline approaches, especially with the building feud between D’Antoni and Gasol regarding Gasol’s bench status. Despite this, there are really no viable trade options for the Spaniard, considering Gasol’s mammoth contract.

If I had the reigns, I would probably only make a minor move or two. Despite the recent emergence of Earl Clark, the Lakers could still use a little more frontcourt depth. I would probably trade Duhon, and/or little-used reserve SF Devin Ebanks, for a veteran big man, or even another three-point shooter to backup Metta World Peace (for example, Philadelphia’s Dorell Wright, who has received sporadic playing time this season). As for the rest of the roster, I am quite content with the current makeup of talent on this team. I would specifically not move Pau Gasol either, because his unique skill-set is vital to the Lakers’ success, and the Lakers would not receive equal value back in a trade of Gasol.

 

Pups Question #2 for John:

With the Timberwolves continuing to struggle and the trade deadline rapidly approaching, do you see the T-Wolves as being buyers or sellers? Former number one pick Derrick Williams has often been rumored in trade talks since he was drafted, could Minnesota finally decide to move him this time? Also, I will ask the same question back to you: If you were in charge of Minnesota’s front office, what deadline moves, or even non-moves, would you consider making?

John:

(I promise that my DWill comment was typed up before seeing this question.)

My opinion on this one changes every few weeks and is relative to how the team looks during respective stretches.  Given the team’s recent struggles and the length of time still to be missed for several players (Love, Budinger, Roy) I actually wouldn’t mind if they just stood pat and rode out this season as currently constructed.  If they happen to stay competitive and close to that 8th seed that could make for some interesting ball in the spring.  If they continue to falter, that may not be such a terrible thing either.

Derrick Williams will not be on the Wolves to start next season.  Whether or not he is on the team by the end of February is another story.  The team really needs him to produce given Love’s injury.  However, he isn’t doing so when he gets his opportunity.  Adelman has him on a short leash most nights and you can see why when you make it a point to watch what he’s doing on both ends of the court during a game.

Aside from Williams, the team will eventually need to part ways with JJ Barea or Luke Ridnour.  That said, and again because of the injuries, it may not be feasible to do so until after this season.  My preference here would be to part ways with JJ Barea.  He looks fantastic about once a week and then will drive you mad for the next few games.  His loose “style” doesn’t fit with Adelman’s system (or me).

I would love to see DWill + Barea moved for a formidable SG but that doesn’t seem feasible right now.  Earlier in the season I went searching for deals on ESPN’s trade machine and came up with a number of options.  Sadly, Williams’ play has very likely had a negative impact on whatever trade value was there and I can’t imagine many of these being an option for the team now.  If we could find an unhappy, but decent SG in their rookie contract to take off someone’s hands, I would happily send DWill out for him at this point.  Outside of this, I wouldn’t do much of anything if I were running the Wolves.

 

Lakers Question #3 for Alex:

Two parts around a general theme of – How long can Kobe keep up this pace?  He’s been phenomenal this season; do you see him slowing down as the season goes on?  Beyond this, how many more seasons do you see him playing at an elite level?

Alex:

It is no secret that Kobe Bryant is just simply wired differently. After 16 years in the league, Kobe has started off his 17th season with arguably the best regular season of his illustrious career. Recently, however, Kobe has dramatically changed his plan of attack. The “Mamba” has now taken over the Lakers’ offense as the ‘full-time facilitator’, a role that seems to have turned the Lakers’ season around. If Kobe continues playing in this manner, and his teammates continue their solid play around him, there’s no reason why he can’t keep up his phenomenal play for the rest of the season. Barring injury, Kobe’s reduced scoring load should enable him to lead the Lakers back into the playoff picture.

As for beyond this season, Kobe has said that he will most likely retire once his current contract runs out (in two years). I do think that Kobe will continue to play at an elite level until that time. Could Kobe play after that? Sure, but it will all depend on how his body feels and the overall state of the Lakers. If it’s any indication of how hard he’s been on Dwight Howard this season, Kobe wants to make sure his beloved franchise is in good hands, long after he is gone from the game.

 

Pups Question #3 for John:

In the past, Kevin Love has had reservations about his future in Minnesota. Assuming Love makes a full recovery and stays healthy from then on, is he still considered the future of the franchise? The Timberwolves have made substantial roster moves in an attempt to satisfy Love’s reservations, but will he remain in Minnesota for the long haul? And if so, what might his legacy be?

John:

If you believe what Love says to anyone that will listen, as long as the Wolves start winning games and playoff series, he would like to remain with the franchise.  However, this team isn’t going to the playoffs and winning any series without having him and Rubio on the floor together and fully healthy.

In my heart of hearts, I don’t see him as a career Wolf unfortunately.  I think he will quietly be on the block when his opt-out clause starts to come into play – during/after the 14/15 season.  The team took DWill in 2011 because he was the best player available on most people’s boards.  However, he was also insurance in case Love didn’t sign an extension.

Love is already the second best player to ever wear a Wolves jersey.  Assuming he is with the team a few more years and through his current contract, I could see his number up for debate on whether or not they put it in the rafters when his career is completely over.  Fans enjoy getting rattled over what Love says and does in the media (self included) and I certainly critique his game more than others, but this should come with the territory of a max player and a desire to be seen as the face of a/the franchise.

We’ll see what happens though, there are a lot of variables that come into play or can come into play over the next two seasons.  I truly hope he stays because it certainly won’t be easy replacing the best PF in the game.  (Boom!)

 

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Lakers.  Again, you can read more from Alex at Laker Nation and/or follow him on Twitter.  You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter as well.