Lakers Bring Mystique, But Wolves Prepared For Win
Gameday just has a different feel to it when the Los Angeles Lakers are in town. There’s no getting around it. It’s the feeling the New York Yankees bring to ballparks across America in baseball. Tradition and talent follows this organization wherever it goes.
Of course, when you average a NBA Finals appearance every two years and a championship every four seasons over the course of six decades, you’ll command that aura.
“They’re always a team contending for a title. They always have one, sometimes two or three, of the best players in the entire league on the team,” Wolves coach T.R. Dunn said. “It’s always a challenge when they come and when you’re playing those teams, playing the Lakers whether it’s at home or whether you’re playing them in L.A.”
This particular Lakers team was built to contend, given their projected starting lineup to start the season now has a combined 35 All-Star appearances. Yet the Lakers have struggled this year, and the Wolves get a chance to take advantage of their woes at Target Center on Friday on national television. If the Wolves win at 8:30 p.m. on My29, ESPN and 830 WCCO-AM, it will end a 19-game winning streak the Lakers hold over Minnesota.
But that’s easier said than done. Even when they’re struggling, they’re still the Lakers. They’re still the franchise of Mikan and Baylor and West and Kareem and Magic and Shaq and Kobe. They’re still the Yankees of the NBA, with a nationwide following of fans that proudly spill purple and gold on any city the team visits during the NBA season. They’re still the team every team wants to beat.
Make no mistake, they’ve earned that respect.
“It is different. You feel like they always have players who are high quality guys who can really play the game, and always a contender,” Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “Always a team who’s up for the biggest go. Don’t look at their record right now. We all know that they’re not playing well. They capable of having a great game, and that’s why you have to be very concentrated right from the beginning.”
Whether or not the Wolves are catching L.A. at the right time is debatable. The Lakers haven’t been above .500 since Nov. 20 and they are currently outside the top eight in the Western Conference—where they’ve lived throughout the 2012-13 season. But they’ve also won three of four, and they’re closer to the eighth seed than they are the bottom of the conference as they make their first trip to Minnesota this season.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he’d be surprised if they’re not a team that continues to climb the standings—they’re too talented not to. Still, the Wolves are in their second game of a six-game home stand and they need to find a way to pick up a win against this Lakers club on Friday night.
Adelman, for one, isn’t fazed by the Lakers’ mystique. He’s been through enough games against L.A., and against future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, to get too caught up in the hype. He’s lost his fair share, he admits, but at the end of the day the key to being successful is the same.
“I know they’re good players, but I also know if you play your game you can win the game, and I think that’s the important thing,” Adelman said.
Dunn, like fellow assistant coaches Jack Sikma and Terry Porter, played in the league in the 1980s during arguably the Lakers’ most celebrated era. They’ve all played the Showtime Lakers as players, and they’ve all been coaches in the league during the reign of Bryant and his collection of rings over the past decade.
But this year is one of the most trying Lakers season in the Kobe Bryant era, and despite Minnesota coming in having lost 10 of 11, the Wolves have been competitive throughout. Injuries have made this a trying campaign, but Minnesota has continued to battle.
The Wolves have a golden opportunity to end this losing streak to the Lakers, a stretch that dates back to a double-overtime win on March 6, 2007. To do it, they’ll need to put together consistent effort for 48 minutes.
“Our guys will be prepared, and they’re going to get after it as hard as we possibly can and compete to try and get it done,” Dunn said.
For the organization, Friday’s game could a long win drought against a storied NBA franchise. For this year’s club, a win on Friday would be an important first step toward putting together a run before the All-Star Break.
For rookie Alexey Shved, that’s the key. Mystique and tradition aside, the Wolves are focused on making sure the Lakers leave town with a loss.
“We need to play against everybody because we can’t seem to think about we play against Lakers,” Shved said. “For sure we can stop them, and we do everything for making the fans happy.”