Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Lakers

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Lakers center Dwight Howard will not play tonight against the Timberwolves as he was ruled out due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He continues to be day-to-day, but his absence means the Lakers will move Pau Gasol back into the starting lineup when they take on Minnesota tonight.

Tipoff is at 8:30 p.m. on My29, ESPN and 830 WCCO-AM.

With full health, the Lakers were beginning to turn things around during a season that has been as up and down as any during the Kobe Bryant era, and they come into tonight having won three of their last four. Without Howard, Minnesota catches a break in that they won’t need to deal with a four-time All-Star off the bench in the front court. Not that it makes it any easier facing Gasol in the starting lineup, but it does mean L.A. will need to mix and match to see who can handle Wolves center Nikola Pekovic in the paint.

While Gasol has a height advantage over Pekovic, the Wolves’ third-year center certainly has a physical advantage. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he anticipates moving Metta World Peace on to Pekovic at times because of his strength.

Losing Howard does come at a tough time for the Lakers, who have been looking for consistency and were putting together a nice stretch of basketball, excluding a late-game loss in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Rubio, Nash square off

Tonight will be the second time that Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash will square off against each other in an NBA game, the first being March 1, 2012 as the Suns hosted the Wolves last season. No question, there is admiration reciprocated between these two players—one being a veteran known for his silky-smooth passing and the other a young, budding star with similar court awareness.

At last year’s All-Star Game, Nash said he finds it a compliment to be compared to Rubio, and there’s no doubt Rubio is a fan of how Nash controls a game.

“He is one of the best ever,” Rubio said at this morning’s shootaround. “He knows how to control the tempo of the game. He knows how to play. He knows when the team needs to score. He can control everything from the pick-and-roll. He has that mid-range shot. There are things to learn from him, you know?”

It’s not a new storyline, as both players were asked about how their individual games mirror one another last season, but this year as Nash joined the Lakers, forward Pau Gasol has gotten a chance to see what it’s like to play with both guy. Gasol has played with Rubio on the Spanish National Team and the two are good friends, but he’s also getting a chance to compare the younger Rubio with the veteran Nash based on their time together in L.A. this year.

Gasol said they have their similarities because they are both great passers, but each has their own unique skill set.

“Steve, he’s a great facilitator, but he feeds off a lot of the pick-and-rolls. Ricky does that, too, but maybe he doesn’t need as many as Steve does especially at this point in his career,” Gasol said. “He’s 38, about to turn 39; that’s a big age gap. They’re both great, great passers. They both think pass-first and shoot later. They’re both very talented point guards, and point guards that you’d like to have on your team because they make plays for others. That’s what a true point guard is supposed to do.”

Kobe Bryant said he, too, sees similarities in the two players’ games. Bryant battled Nash’s Suns teams for years, particularly during the postseason during the mid-2000s, and so he’s familiar with the two-time MVP both as a teammate and an opponent. His take is both Nash and Rubio have similar feels for how to make plays on the court.

“Just a lot of talent, a lot of talent,” Bryant said of Rubio. “A guy that has a really good feel for the game. A good understanding of passing angles, quick hands defensively.”

A veteran squad

The Lakers are a veteran squad that prompts nostalgia from some of the current Wolves’ players, some of whom grew up watching these current L.A. players on the court earlier in their careers. Derrick Williams, who grew up in California, said Kobe Bryant was the player he most identified with as a young guy going to watch games dating back to the franchise’s days at the Great Western Forum.

“Being from California and always going to the Forum and watching those games back then,” Williams said. “So I’d probably say Kobe, one of the best to ever play.”

Williams said he watched closely during that Lakers’ run of three consecutive titles in the early 2000s, naming off Robert Horry, Eddie Jones, Shaquille O’Neal along with Bryant as pivotal members of those squads that he remembers now as he is in the early stages of his own NBA career.

“They had a great team, man,” Williams said. “Shaq and all those guys being dominant, but I think we have a good team as well, so we have to keep pushing.”

Quick hits

  • Williams said he didn’t see much of a difference in the late start time because of the ESPN telecast. The Wolves/Lakers game will tip off at 8:30 p.m. tonight. “I don’t think so. Maybe a little more rest, but I think we’re all going to be anxious to get out there and play.”

  • Bryant was asked about the ongoing Pau Gasol trade talk speculation, saying the biggest challenge is trying to find a way to best utilize him in the Lakers’ system. “We know what his value is. We haven’t been able to use him to his full potential, everybody knows that. That’s something we’re trying to figure out.”

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