It's time for the Timberwolves to snatch the Western Conference title from last year's champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Minnesota Timberwolves (4-9) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (10-2)
It was only ten days ago when the Timberwolves were in Los Angeles to play the Lakers at Staples Center. At lot has changed in under two weeks. The Wolves have gone 3-3 since that game, while the previously-undefeated Lakers have only been a little better at 3-2. All of the momentum is with Minnesota at the moment and the Wolves will be looking to get their third straight home victory.
Last Friday, the Wolves had their most entertaining game since Kevin Garnett left for Boston. This Friday, they're going to top it. Look for the Wolves to stifle Kobe, slow down Pau and send Lamar to the bench. People are going to have to start paying attention to this team or the Wolves will make them pay attention.
Let's break down the matchups:
Darko consoles Pau Gasol by telling him he might get traded to the Wolves for Kosta Koufos, the rights to Paulo Prestes and a protected 2012-1st round pick.
Darko Milicic vs. Pau Gasol
In the regular season, the Lakers have won 12 straight versus Minnesota. Pau Gasol has only been on the team for 9 of those victories, and in his last four games against the Wolves, Gasol has averaged 20.3 and 14.8 rebounds.
Darko Milicic, on the other hand, has not had a tremendous history when facing the Lakers.
To the untrained basketball fan, this might seem like an argument for Pau Gasol in tonight's matchup. What those fans fail to take into account, however, is that Darko is finally figuring out this whole NBA thing. Darko mastered defense a long time ago. Slowly but surely, however, he's learning how to make hook shots, how to use post moves and how to dunk the basketball. Darko may be a late bloomer but fans are going to see why the man was taken 2nd overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.
By the way, I've heard shots taken at Darko from some other Wolves fans over the past few weeks. I just thought I'd point out that those who are critical of Darko - even a little bit - should not be considered true basketball fans and, frankly, should be considered un-American. Just an FYI.
Winner: Darko Milicic
The correct terminology to describe what is about to happen in the above photo: "And-1".
Kevin Love vs. Lamar Odom
In L.A., Kevin Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds against the Lakers. A nice performance and one that helped spark the Wolves. Kevin Love is the best rebounder in the game, but I am concerned that his high rebounding totals will not last. After all, Love gets many of his boards on the offensive end, and since the Wolves are starting to shoot the ball better every game, Love's chances to get rebounds are going to diminish.
By the end of the season, when Martell and Jonny are fully healthy, Love may only have a handful of offensive board opportunities every game. Fortunately, as our defense improves, he should get that many more defensive board opportunities on the other end. For this game, I expect Love to go for 25-25. Any less, and I won't feel like I've gotten enough Love for the evening.
I'm not really mentioning Lamar in this section because, frankly, he doesn't deserve it. That would be like comparing Manchester United to the L.A. Galaxy or trying to write about how a moose would do in a battle against Sarah Palin. Everyone already knows how that matchup is going to end (in Palin's case, with a photo that would make Michael Vick upset).
Lamar can barely keep up with the Kardashians, how is he going to keep up with the best white American basketball player since Billy Hoyle?
Winner: Kevin Love
Ron, you can't guard him from all the way back there.
Michael Beasley and Ron Artest are alike in a lot of ways. Both have had well-publicized issues for which they have received a lot of flack and negative attention. Both have admitted to those issues and have gotten help. And both are wildly entertaining individuals on and off of the court.
In only a couple of months in a Wolves uniform, Michael Beasley has already been mentioned as the best offensive player that the team has ever had and has even entered the "favorite Wolf ever" conversation amongst some fans. Beasley has turned into Carmelo Anthony without the large contract, the prima donna attitude and the TV-star wife who wants him to move to New York.
Ron Artest is a great defender and I like rooting for Artest when he's not playing the Wolves. Tonight, however, he is going to have his worst night on a basketball court since the Malice of Auburn Hills, which happened on this day six years ago.
Beasley is in a groove - he has been his entire life, except for Miami - and he is going for six straight 25+ point games for the Wolves tonight.
Winner: Michael Beasley
Where I'm from, we call that kind of look "money".
If I would have one critique of Wesley Johnson so far in his NBA career, it would be that the guy seems to disappear on the basketball court from time to time. With the tools that Johnson has, he needs to be more assertive - especially on offense - and should be much more aggressive when attacking the hoop. Everyone knows the guy has a terrific shot. Now, he needs to make teams respect his drive enough to open up those outside looks for him.
I've been predicting since we drafted Wes that he will be an NBA All-Star at some point in his career. I think this guy is just a little too nice for his own good and needs a little more motivation when he steps onto the court.
Well, if there is one player in the NBA who could get a player motivated, it has to be Kobe Bryant. Kobe - as CH faithful will know - is my favorite non-Wolves player and, in my opinion, the best non-Timberwolf in the NBA (the 14th best player overall). Wes needs to step up to this challenge and not only shut down Bryant on the defensive end, but also take it to Kobe's grill.
We may see the kind of breakout Wes Johnson performance that will get people talking on the national level. Think Brandon Jennings 50-points kind of breakout.
Your move, DeMarcus.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Another turnover for Derek Fisher thanks to the great defense of Luke Ridnour.
Luke Ridnour/Sebastian Telfair vs. Derek Fisher
Unfortunately, my usual source for Wolves' insider info (the guy who sold me a pair of basketball shoes at the Mall of America Foot Locker) could not tell me whether the Wolves were going to start Luke Ridnour or Sebastian Telfair for tonight's game. Fortunately, we're only going against Derek Fisher in this game, so it's unlikely to matter who we start. We could even start Ricky Rubio - knowing that he's still over in Spain - and not be at that big of a disadvantage against the Lakers tonight.
Ridnour, Telfair and Sundiata Gaines are the best point guard trio that the Wolves have had in the history of the franchise. Yeah, I said it. Go on, think of a better one. I'll give you two minutes...
...back? See, I told you that you couldn't think of one. Derek Fisher (and his back-up Steve Blake) are going to have their hands full tonight. Fisher called out his teammates after the last Lakers-Wolves game and said that he was embarrassed by their effort. If he did all of that after last game, I would hate to think what Fisher will do after his team loses tonight.
Winner: Lubastian Gainfairnour.
It should be a scrappy, tightly contested game tonight but I fully expect that the Wolves will come out on top.
The Wolves face a tough challenge tonight in the L.A. Lakers. I'm not going to lie. Winning might not be easy. But it won't be that hard either. Now that we've learned how to close out tight games - and have our own closer to rival Mr. Mamba - we are a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.
My Prediction: Timberwolves 101 - Los Angeles Lakers 98.
Timberwolves' Record: 5-9
(If the refs hadn't screwed us, our record would be 14-0. That's right, we're technically undefeated, baby!)
By the way, the All-Star Ballots have just been released and only Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Corey Brewer have been included on the "official" ballot. What a travesty. If you're a Wolves fan, and you voted for Love, Beasley and Brewer, well done, but that's not enough. A true Wolves fan would also write-in Darko Milicic.
Only a die-hard fan would make his own ballot and write-in the other Wolves. For example, my ballot looks like this:
Center - Darko Milicic (write-in vote)
Power Forward - Kevin Love
Small Forward - Michael Beasley
Shooting Guard - Corey Brewer
Point Guard - Luke Ridnour (write-in vote)
Center - Nikola Pekovic (write-in vote)
Power Forward - Anthony Tolliver (write-in vote)
Small Forward - Martell Webster (write-in vote)
Shooting Guard - Wesley Johnson (write-in vote)
Point Guard - Sebastian Telfair (write-in vote)
I know Pek, AT, Webster, Wes and Bassy don't play in the East, but since there aren't really any players in the East with the talent of those five guys, I think it would be fairer to bend the rules in this case. That's the only way to uphold the sanctity of the All-Star Game. Kurt Rambis can coach the West, David Kahn can coach the East.
But can you imagine what would happen if the Wolves' West All-Stars played the Wolves' East All-Stars? Wow, I might not even be able to watch the All-Star Game this year. My head could explode from all of the awesomeness.