Wolves vs. Lakers Gameday
Wolves Pregame Audio
Wolves assistant coach Ed Pinckney
The Lakers are on a mission this season after an embarrassing game five loss in the Finals last year. With a 19-3 start, Los Angeles has impressed the entire league by scoring 108 points a game while only allowing 97. The Western Conference champs look different this season with the return of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom coming off the bench. Phil Jackson employs the triangle offense to perfection as the Lakers look for a revenge tour in 2008-09 to capture another NBA championship.
Behind a talented group of players on the Los Angeles roster, there stands one man; the MVP. Kobe Bryant showed critics he could lead a team to the Finals without Shaquille O’Neal while playing unselfishly throughout an entire season. Through 22 games, Bryant’s averages are down but the 30-year old is just as dangerous. Understanding the importance of the team-concept, Bryant waits for double-teams and finds open shooters on the perimeter. Mike Miller returned to the Minnesota lineup on Friday night in the loss to the Spurs. Head coach Kevin McHale said he played Miller too many minutes and will now face the challenge of placing the best defender on Bryant. On Friday night, Bryant scored 32 points to lead Los Angeles over Sacramento for the Lakers 12th home victory of the season. Derrick Fisher joins Bryant in the backcourt as the two leftovers from the three championships acquired by Los Angeles in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Fisher is a pesky defender with incredible strength for his size. Randy Foye has played well all month, averaging 18 points a game in December but he will be challenged by Fisher tonight. Fisher is an excellent 3-point shooter and leads the team with a 48 percentage from the arc.
Vladimir Radmanovic was ripped from the starting lineup after the loss to Sacramento on Tuesday night. Seldom used Luke Walton got the nod with the starting five along side Bynum and Pau Gasol. Jackson said the decision to start Walton was to create more ball movement. After the midseason theft of Gasol, Los Angeles jumped to the upper echelon of NBA contenders last year. Gasol can breakdown defenders in the post and step out to hit jump shots from the elbow. His wide range of skills also includes incredible court vision for a big man. At the power forward position, Gasol is second the team in assists as he fits perfectly in Jackson’s triangle offense. Bynum returned from the knee injury this season and provides a defensive presence for Los Angeles. Averaging slightly less than a double-double, Bynum clogs the paint on the defensive side of the floor, which will make penetration difficult for the Wolves. Despite an MVP shooting guard on the roster, the Lakers are an extremely difficult frontcourt to defend and they can produce points on offense as well. Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, and Craig Smith will need big performances for the Wolves to have a shot at an upset tonight.
The bench play for Los Angeles creates havoc for opposing teams. The second unit is led by Odom at the forward position, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, and now Radmanovic. The starters play a more controlled-half court offense in contrast to the fast pace, erratic style from the bench. Los Angeles receives a big boost from the depth of its role players. If the Lakers seem to struggle at the start of the contest against the Wolves tonight, Jackson will quickly look for an energy boost from the bench.
Minnesota will need to match the Lakers intensity and limit their scoring opportunities. After games against Utah and San Antonio, this will be the toughest test for the Wolves. Tipoff scheduled for 8:30 PM in Los Angeles with Minnesota hoping to snap an eight-game losing streak and 0-3 start under McHale.
Miller returned to the starting lineup on Friday night in the loss to San Antonio after missing three games due to an ankle injury. McHale said he overextended Miller's minutes as he played 32 minutes against the Spurs.
Derrick Fisher, PG
Kobe Bryant, SG
Luke Walton, SF
Pau Gasol, PF
Andrew Bynum, C
Randy Foye, PG
Mike Miller, SG
Ryan Gomes, SF
Craig Smith, PF
Al Jefferson, C