Tonight will be a tough matchup for the Lakers. The Lakers now have Pau Gasol out with injury. There’s a small possibility to see Steve Nash and Steve Blake play. Jordan Farmar is still out with a hamstring injury and may be back next week.
Minnesota is a tough cover for the Lakers in the painted area. Nikola Pekovic will be out with bursitis in his ankle. This should give Robert Sacre some relief. Hopefully, Sacre is able to compete on the defensive glass without getting into too much foul trouble. Ronny Turiaf is the projected starter at center. While he’s an active player, his fundamentals are in need of refinement. There will be opportune times for Sacre to establish offensive position and utilize his post game. The Lakers will need it to make up for Pau Gasol’s absence.
Ryan Kelly draws the assignment of Kevin Love. While Kevin Love has floated out to the perimeter later in his career, his effectiveness remains at his paint play. He still has crafty moves in the paint, but more importantly, still has a nose for the ball and an activity level rarely matched by other NBA players. The Lakers repeatedly get killed for giving up offensive rebounds and Kevin Love will be due for a huge night on the backboard.
Corey Brewer is a known Laker killer. He plays defense like a safety and forces turnovers to get out into transition. He went 0-8 from the field the last game dating back to December 20th. Look for him to give Nick Young some match up issues defensively.
Ricky Rubio is the architect of the Minnesota offense. He excels and pick-and-roll play, finding the open man in the paint and hitting him with the pocket pass, or passing out to shooters. He’s been able to be contained offensively due to his inconsistent perimeter shooting. However, like Jason Kidd, he’s streaky from the perimeter. Once he gains confidence in his set shot, he’ll be more aggressive with it and can end up with a handful of 3-point field goals for the night. It is important for the Lakers to hedge hard on pick and roll situations early on, and concede the 3-point shots later in the game.
Kevin Martin is one of Rubio’s favorite targets. Rubio usually has his choice of Kevin Love on pick and pop situations, Nikola Pekovic on pick and roll situations, and Kevin Martin for drive and kick situations. While Minnesota’s record floats around the .500 mark, they can still be an offensive juggernaut due to the perimeter shooting from the frontcourt and backcourt positions. Rubio is able to get the basketball to his teammates while they’re in scoring position, and this allows them to be among the better teams offensively.
Defensively, Minnesota lacks shotblocking in the paint. They try to make up for that with free-safety defenses that give Rubio and Brewer the ability to gamble and force turnovers. If ever there was a night for Nick Young and Jodie Meeks to be particularly aggressive to the basket, or at least midrange, this is it. There shouldn’t be much reason to settle for 3-point shots tonight.
The Lakers as a whole need two things to come out with a win tonight. They need to match the energy of the opponents while being on the road and they need to clean up the defensive backboards by having only one player leak out. Rebounding will be a team effort tonight and it’ll show how disciplined the Laker team is. Steve Blake and Steve Nash add unpredictability on the offensive end. We may not know what they are able to contribute, but don’t be surprised to see spotty minutes from both players, just to give the rest of the team a bit of a break. The guys have pushed hard through the month of January. It wouldn’t hurt to see them come out with a win for a change.