Minnesota Timberwolves (1-6) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7-0)
For the second time this year, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers will square off, and if tonight's game is anything like the first contest, it's bound to be a long night for the purple and gold.
In round 1, the Wolves defeated the Lakers at London's O2 Arena 111-92, led by 24 points from Martell Webster and 21 from Michael Beasley. The Wolves' defense was active all night, holding Kobe Bryant to 0-of-3 shooting on the night for zero points. Kobe was so stymied by Kurt Rambis' defensive schemes that Phil Jackson had no choice but to bench him a mere six minutes into the game.
This time, Martell Webster is out for the Wolves and point guard Luke Ridnour may also be on the shelf with a reaggravated hamstring injury.
Let's break down the matchups and see who will come out on top in round 2 of Wolves vs. Lakers:
From what I can tell in this picture, Pau Gasol is either mad at a call or just found out he could have saved 15% or more on car insurance by switching to Geico.
Darko Milicic vs. Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol, through the first seven games, is having one of his best statistical games of the season. He's averaging a double-double with 24.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, while also blocking nearly a shot and a half and dishing out 5 assists per game.
Gasol even notched his fourth career triple-double against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
Unfortunately for Laker fans and Gasol's fantasy owners, the Spaniard is traditionally a very soft player. Gasol shies away from contact and would rather stay outside and shoot inefficient two-point jumpers than take it inside in the post. Against fellow softies like David Lee and DeMarcus Cousins, this strategy might work. Against a lunchpail hero like Darko Milicic? I see a lot of Theo Ratliff substitutions in this game.
Gasol is going to be intimidated by Darko, who is currently third in the league in blocks (2.71 per game), and is an early favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. With Darko clogging the middle, it is going to be tough for the Lakers' vaunted inside-out game to work and shooters will have trouble finding open looks.
Winner: Darko Milicic
Kevin Love vs. Lamar Odom
Kevin Love and Lamar Odom bonded during their time together on the US Men's Basketball Team this summer at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. They know each other well and will get a chance to square off again tonight. Lamar Odom was the Lakers' leading scorer (17 points) in the previous matchup in October, dropping 13 of those points in the first half.
Since that game, Lamar and the Lakers have played well, while Kevin Love has been embroiled in the #freekevinlove movement. This movement was started by Bill Simmons and has been carried on by national writers like John Hollinger and J.A. Adande. These pundits feel that a player with as much talent as Love should be on a big market team, not small market Minnesota. It's like in Mean Girls, when Lindsey Lohan joined the Plastics, became super-popular and left all of her real friends behind. She learned quickly that being with the most popular crowd is not always the best situation.
If that movie taught us anything, its that you're better off being who you really are. Just like Kevin Love. In Los Angeles, sure, he might help them win another ring. But in Minnesota, he can fulfill his destiny as the under-appreciated, ultra-efficient power forward that eventually leads the
Mathletes Timberwolves to the championship.
Winner: Kevin Love
No, he's not crazy. He's just Ron Artest.
Michael Beasley vs. Ron Artest
After winning the first championship of his career last year, Ron Artest recorded a song called "Champion" and is set to auction off his championship ring for the benefit of a mental health charity. Derek Fisher said that Artest is auctioning off the ring because he wants to stay hungry to win a second one this year. Standing in his way, at least for the moment, is Michael Beasley, who is looking to win his own first championship ring with the Timberwolves.
Artest tried guarding Beasley in their London game, but the former Kansas State guard dropped 21 points on him, and looks to do the same tonight. Beasley has drawn attention recently for calling the Timberwolves the "worst team in the league". Clearly, Beasley forgot to use the % tag when he made such a statement, and the pundits picked up his comment as serious.
The Wolves are clearly better than their record shows and Beasley is one of the key reasons why.
Winner: Michael Beasley
The Black Mamba has always had a keen shot but is he getting too old to carry the Lakers?
Wesley Johnson vs. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant says that he is 100-percent recovered from his knee injury. But age is something that can't be recovered from and after thousands of minutes and 32 years, Kobe is on the decline as an NBA player. His athleticism is fading, his speed is slowing and his vertical is dropping. He still has a deadly shot, but no longer can he get it off any time he wishes against the top defenders in the league - like Wesley Johnson, who learned his defensive prowess from Jim Boeheim.
Wesley Johnson is the new generation of superstar. 23-years-old with a sweet shooting stroke and superb athleticism. Wes is currently averaging 10.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game but scouts like David Thorpe have praised Johnson for his effort and decision making and feel that he has the potential to be a solid rotation player.
I think we are going to see the first breakout performance from young Wesley Johnson against aging Kobe Bryant. Wes is going to start making Flip Saunders regret the choice of John Wall with the #1 overall pick.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Sebastian Telfair vs. Derek Fisher
With Luke Ridnour likely out of tonight's game and Jonny Flynn not yet ready to return, Sebastian Telfair is the only true point guard left to face the Lakers. Wayne Ellington will likely also get some minutes at the point, but since Ellington's handle and play-making abilities leave quite a bit to be desired, the Wolves are leaving their offense in the hands of Telfair.
Thankfully, Bassy is more than capable to handle the job. Maybe he'll play 48 minutes and inspire John Hollinger to write a "best trades of 2010 column". Maybe he'll drop a triple-double and when Luke returns he'll do so as a backup. Maybe he'll go for 52 like Jamal Crawford did against the Heat.
Whatever Bassy decides to do tonight, Derek Fisher will not be able to stop him. Neither will Steve Blake. Until Rubio arrives, Mr. Telfair could be the key to our entire point-guard conundrum here in Minnesota.
Winner: Sebastian Telfair
The best Lakers of All-Time played in Minneapolis.
It's the Best Record in the NBA vs. the Worst Record in the NBA, but phrased differently, it's decent talent with low potential vs. impressive talent with extremely high potential. Kurt Rambis will prove that he was the key cog to the Lakers' success and that Phil was taking notes from him, not the other way around.