When former Lakers assistant coach and player Kurt Rambis left L.A. to take the head coaching job in Minnesota after winning a championship last June, he knew it was going to be a struggle, at least at first.
The Wolves are among the league’s youngest teams, a franchise in rebuilding mode that was not expecting to win many games in 2009-10, but rather assembling cap space and young assets for the future.
Sure enough, they haven’t won many games in 2009-10, a process not helped by Al Jefferson’s recovery from ACL surgery and last season’s No. 5 overall pick Kevin Love missing 22 games to injury.
Minnesota is just 14-55, and is struggling mightily of late, losing 11 straight and 17-of-18 after the Timberwolves’ lone 4-game winning streak this season, when they beat the Clippers, Knicks, Mavericks and Grizzlies in succession from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6.
Four games is the current length of L.A.’s winning streak, three of which came on the road (Phoenix, Golden State, Sacramento) after a home victory over Toronto, allowing the Lakers to reach 50 wins to just 18 losses.
The numbers are certainly daunting heading into Friday night’s contest between the two teams at STAPLES Center: the Lakers have lost five games at home all year, the Wolves have won five games on the road; Minnesota scores 98.1 points per game and concedes 107.7 points per game, L.A. scores 103.0 and allows 97.0; Minnesota has trouble with big teams in particular, the Lakers are perhaps the biggest. And so on.
Yet the Lakers have declared themselves to be in the business portion of their schedule, worrying less about opponents and more about their own level of play. Kobe Bryant was among other players this week to refuse to begin thinking about L.A.’s upcoming 5-game road trip before dealing first with Minnesota and then Washington on Sunday.
“We’re playing hard and want to continue to get better with execution all across the board and make sure we play with the right energy,” said Bryant. “We just have things that we need to work on and focus on for ourselves. It’s not about our next opponents, it’s about doing what we need to do to be a better team.”
For a detailed video breakdown of the Timberwolves from assistant coach Brian Shaw, scroll back to the top of the page and press play.
The Raptors head into Los Angeles for a Tuesday evening tilt having lost 4-of-5 and 6-of-10 games due largely to the respective ankles of Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu.
Bosh missed seven straight games before returning on Sunday when Toronto lost to Philadelphia, and Turkoglu’s minutes had been limited before he was held out of the Sixers game entirely. However, both are expected to start for the Raptors on Tuesday alongside Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani.
In late January, the Raptors stole away a 1-point victory over the Lakers when Turkoglu drew a questionable foul with one second left and sank both free throws. Toronto thus got the win despite L.A.’s relative dominance of the game featuring a near triple-double from Kobe Bryant (27-16-9) and nice games from both Pau Gasol (22 & 9) and Andrew Bynum (21 & 9).
The Raptors did get hard-working forward Reggie Evans back from injury in recent days, and are looking to get back into the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference ahead of Milwaukee, as the Bucks have won 9-of-10 to earn a half-game lead on the Raptors.
The Lakers, of course, have lost three straight games for the first time since Pau Gasol was acquired from Memphis in February of 2008, providing just a bit more motivation for the Purple and Gold.
The Indiana Pacers have struggled in 2009-10, winning just 20 games with 39 losses as only New Jersey (6-53) has won fewer games in the Eastern Conference.
Their best player, Danny Granger, has battled various injuries and played in only 41 of 59 games, while Troy Murphy has missed 10 and Mike Dunleavy 14 contests.
With those – and other – injuries leading Head Coach Jim O’Brien to use 22 different starting lineups this season, the Pacers have turned recently to small ball, starting point guards T.J. Ford and Earl Watson together in the backcourt. Usual power forward Murphy has been playing center, with wings Granger and Rush spreading the floor further. The Pacers, however, could very well start Dahntay Jones instead of Ford to better match up with Kobe Bryant.
When on the floor, Granger’s been quite good to average 23.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.61 steals, and Murphy a near double-double with 13.8 points and 9.7 boards a night.
But as assistant coach Jim Cleamons explained, punishing the Pacers with size and not getting into their up-and-down game will be the key factor for the Lakers. It certainly was on Jan. 27 in Indianapolis, when Andrew Bynum posted 27 points and 12 rebounds while Pau Gasol added 21 and 13.
The final game of a road trip can be difficult in any NBA arena, and for the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday evening’s contest against the Lakers at STAPLES Center will be no exception.
The Sixers (22-35) began their trip in Chicago on Saturday, falling 120-90 a day after beating the Spurs 106-94 at home, and followed up with a 110-102 win at Golden State on Tuesday. Then on another back-to-back on Wednesday in Phoenix, Philly fell 106-95.
The Lakers and Sixers have already met once this year, with Kobe Bryant out-dueling Allen Iverson (who is currently on leave of the team while dealing with family matters) in a 99-91 L.A. win in Philadelphia featuring 24 points from No. 24.
Last time the two teams saw each other at STAPLES, however, the Sixers overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to shock the Lakers with a 94-93 victory when Andre Iguodala’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer dropped through the net [Iguodala leads the Sixers in points (17.3), assists (5.8) and steals (1.9) while Samuel Dalembert paces Philly on the glass (9.6) and in blocks (2.1)].
As assistant coach Brian Shaw explained in the above video, the Lakers would clearly like to avenge that loss.
Furthermore, you can click on our Lakers Gameday Archive Page to get all of that information on any Lakers game played in the last three seasons (I utilize this function for story research almost every day).
But because Kobe Bryant’s last-minute mastery can’t be shown too often, here’s the video from LA’s dramatic victory over Memphis on Tuesday night, featuring Bryant’s two three-pointers in the final minute.
Another way to ensure you’re getting all the in-game and postgame coverage you can handle is to follow us on Twitter. My account, @LakersReporter, features constant updates, notes and observations as the game goes on, and will often include postgame videos as well. Further information is provided on our parent account, @Lakers.
From tonight, we have Phil Jackson (parts 1 and 2) and Pau Gasol:
After an impressive three-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break despite the absence of Kobe Bryant (left ankle), the Lakers found out Tuesday morning that they’d likely be without Bryant for at least their first game out of the break.
That information had yet to come in when we talked to assistant coach Brian Shaw about the matchup (above), detailing why Golden State can still be dangerous despite injuries of their own (most notably Monta Ellis), looking at rookie Stephen Curry and explaining what LA’s coaches would like to see at both ends of the court.
Preparing for a game is always a bit more difficult when coaches aren’t sure which players will be available, particularly when one of those players is Kobe Bryant.
Heading into Monday’s contest against the Spurs, Bryant remains a game-time decision with a sprained ankle, while Andrew Bynum is not expected to play due to a hip contusion he suffered in Portland on Saturday.
Nonetheless, assistant coach Jim Cleamons joined us to take a look at Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs.