Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Lakers

Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Lakers

Wolves (9-10) at Lakers (11-9) - 6 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO

*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had three previous chances to climb to the .500 mark this season, and tonight’s meeting against the Los Angeles Lakers will be their fourth opportunity when the two meet at Target Center.

The Wolves are coming off back-to-back wins over Southwest Division leaders Dallas and San Antonio, and a victory over the Lakers—second place in the Pacific Division—would give them three consecutive wins for the second time this season. Minnesota is currently 5-2 in their past seven games.

“We put ourselves in position and now we need to take advantage of it,” coach Rick Adelman said.

By the numbers

The Lakers bring a veteran team to town and have a core group—Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol—who were on the squad when they won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. But even their veteran presence hasn’t been able to keep Los Angeles winning on the road. The Lakers are 1-7 away from Staples Center this year (10-2 at home) and have lost four straight road contests since beating Utah 90-87 in overtime on Jan. 11. Minnesota is 3-1 in its past four games at Target Center, rallying off wins against San Antonio, Detroit and Sacramento.

Key matchup: Shooting guard

Bryant continues to be one of the league’s elite scorers. He’s currently leading the NBA in points per game at 30.0, and the 16-year veteran is currently attempting 24.2 shots per game—the second most in his career. Bryant has scored 30 or more points nine times this year and put up a stretch of four 40-plus point performances on Jan. 10-14. Minnesota’s task will be finding a way to contain Bryant with their guard rotation, which for much of the season has included playing point guards Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour at the same time. Wayne Ellington and Martell Webster—who played in his first game of the season Friday against the Spurs—will also be in the mix. Adelman said Webster in particular, at 6-foot-7, gives the Wolves size and athleticism while defending players like Bryant.

Battle at the boards

Wolves forward Kevin Love has already gone head-to-head with one of the league’s top 5 rebounders and won, topping Clippers forward Blake Griffin 14-10 on the boards in a 101-98 win on Jan. 20. Tonight, Love will get his second shot at one of the NBA’s elite rebounders as Lakers center Andrew Bynum comes to town. Bynum currently sits third in the league with 12.5 boards per game, trailing only Love (13.8) and Orlando’s Dwight Howard (15.6). But Love holds the advantage both in scoring (24.9 to 16.1 PPG) and in double-doubles. Love leads the league with 18 double-doubles on the season, while Bynum—who missed the first four games of the year—has 10 entering tonight.

Rubio-Gasol connection

Rubio said during Saturday’s practice he, like other aspiring basketball players in Spain, look to Lakers forward Pau Gasol as a mentor for reaching the NBA.

“He’s like a mirror for us,” Rubio said. “He shows us the way to come here. He did a great job over here. He’s a great guy.”

Tonight will be the first time Rubio and Gasol will face off in the league, but it’s not the first time Rubio has faced Gasol with the Lakers. Los Angeles played an exhibition against Rubio’s Barcelona team in October 2010 as an exhibition, and Barcelona beat the then-defending champions 92-88. Gasol scored 24 points in the contest, but Rubio and his team got the win.

“I went 1-0 against them, so I have a good record,” Rubio said.

Injury report

Wolves center Darko Milicic missed Friday’s game against the Spurs with an illness, and Adelman said he did not practice on Saturday. The Wolves had a viable replacement in the starting lineup against San Antonio, as Nikola Pekovic notched his second career double-double in Milicic’s absence. Center Brad Miller was dressed on Friday and was officially available to play, but he did not get any minutes and Adelman said he doesn’t expect him to play for long stretches of time. Still, Adelman said Miller could get his first action of the season tonight. Forward Michael Beasley (foot) made his first appearance in 11 games on Friday against San Antonio. Guard JJ Barea continues to be listed as doubtful while he recovers from a sprained left ankle suffered Jan. 10 against Chicago. He's missed eight of the last nine games.

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