Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Lakers

Wolves (21-19) vs. Lakers (23-16) - 7 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 inner bowl of seats surrounding the Target Center court does not have its same blue, green and black look today. Each seat has its own white t-shirt draped across it, giving the arena a surreal feeling of a freshly fallen snow.

But tonight against the Lakers, the Timberwolves hope fans make it feel more like a blizzard. Tonight at 7 p.m. Minnesota hosts Los Angeles in a White Out, a game in which the Wolves will not only wear their Muskies gear but the fans will each receive a white shirt to help give the Timberwolves an extra push against a Lakers squad that has beaten them twice this season. Friday is also fans’ first chance to purchase season tickets for the 2012-13 campaign.

The Lakers defeated Minnesota 106-101 at Target Center on Jan. 29 and 104-85 on Feb. 29 at Staples Center. This is the third of four meetings against L.A. this season, and it comes at a point in the year when Minnesota is playing some of its most consistent basketball. The Wolves have won eight of their past 11 games and have won five straight at home for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Meanwhile, L.A. has lost two straight road games to Detroit and Washington, two sub-.500 teams in the Eastern Conference. The two defeats came after the Lakers put together a dominant 93-83 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday. Coach Rick Adelman said the Wolves know that the Lakers—particularly Kobe Bryant—will respond like they always do after losses, but he said Minnesota is more worried about its own execution after suffering a one-sided loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles last week.

Love’s presence

The last time the Lakers and Wolves met, forward Kevin Love missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. With his presence missing on the court, Minnesota never put together any type of offensive rhythm and it led to a 19-point loss. The beauty of Love’s game is just how consistent he’s been throughout the season, and so far in March his presence has been even more intense. He’s averaging 33.3 points and 13.3 boards in four games this month, including 42 points against the Blazers in Portland and 39 against Clippers at Target Center. He was two points shy of tying Kevin Garnett’s record for most points in a three-game stretch in team history over the past three contests—Love finished with 110 points in that span. Love is second in the NBA in rebounding with 13.8 boards per night, and he will be tasked with battling the Lakers' tandem of Andrew Bynum (7-foot-0) and Pau Gasol (7-foot-0) for rebounds tonight.

Key matchup: Pekovic vs. Bynum

Wolves Minute with John Focke

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic has not played in the past two games due to a sore right foot, but at Thursday’s practice he said he feels better and that he plans to play tonight against the Lakers. If he does, his presence will likely have a big impact on how the Wolves contain Bynum. Bynum is the league’s third leading rebounder behind Love and Orlando’s Dwight Howard—he’s pulling down 12.7 boards a night to go along with 16.7 points. In two games against the Wolves this year, Bynum is averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in two games against Minnesota this season. Pekovic’s bruising style stands in Bynum’s way. He’s been a force on the offensive boards and brings a physicality that makes the opposition work on both ends of the court. If he does play, how his foot feels will also be a factor in Minnesota’s ability to contain Bynum down low.

Masked Mamba

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant continues to wear a protective mask on his face after suffering a broken nose and concussion-like symptoms during the All-Star Game in late-February, and it hadn’t seemed to slow him down until his past two games in Detroit and Washington. Bryant did finish with 22 and 30 points in the Lakers’ two losses, respectively, but he shot a combined 17-for-52 in those two contests. Still, Bryant is the league’s leading scorer (28.7 PPG) and has put up an average of 33.0 points in L.A.’s two wins over Minnesota this season. The Wolves have had success with Wes Johnson guarding Bryant in the past, and he’ll likely get the matchup to start off tonight. Johnson’s 6-foot-7 frame gives him more size than guard Luke Ridnour (6-foot-2) to take on the crafty Bryant.

Bench play critical

Minnesota showed how deep its team can be during last week’s win over the Clippers, as the Wolves’ reserves held a 72-11 advantage over their counterparts. The Lakers have one of the top three-man combinations in the league with Bryant, Bynum and Pau Gasol, but their bench is not incredibly deep and it is a part of the game Minnesota can use to its advantage. If the Wolves are able to get solid minutes and scoring production from guard Martell Webster and forwards Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley, the Wolves could get a boost from their bench that could be crucial in tonight’s contest. However, guard JJ Barea is listed as doubtful for tonight after suffering a sprained left ankle in Wednesday’s win over Portland.

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