|This is what Kobe thought of Smush Parker.|
I have a good feeling about tonight. Streaks have to end someday, and the Timberwolves have a little mojo going right now after 3 straight quality victories at Portland, and then at home against the Clippers and Portland again. Pekovic is back tonight, but Barea will be sidelined with the left ankle injury. In my opinion Barea isn't near as vital against the Lakers as Pekovic will be. The way the matchups work out, it will be tough to ride the 2-point guard lineup very long tonight. With Ridnour having to guard guys like Ron Artest (his other name is just dumb, so I still call him Artest) all night if he plays more at the 2, I'm guessing he'll get more time spelling Rubio at the 1 tonight. That means more of Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, and Michael Beasley tonight. The bigs will have their hands full again tonight, with a much-needed Pek, Love, Milicic, and D-Will rotating through trying to keep Bynum and Gasol at bay. Who knows, maybe we'll even see a little bit of that Anthony Randolph guy and that Anthony Tolliver character tonight - do they still play for us?
I think one of the biggest keys to watch for tonight is how effective Wes Johnson will be, coming off a very solid performance on Wednesday against Portland. In the first two games against the Lakers, Wes is 4-11 from the field for 9 points in 31+ minutes. He has 3 rebounds, 0 assists, and an alarming +/- of -40 in those two games. The Wolves absolutely need him to step up tonight offensively and defensively, overcome his timidity, and accept the challenge from his workout buddy #24.
In the paint, the Wolves desperately need Pekovic to stay out of foul trouble on the defensive end, and use is physical presence on the offensive end to cause the Lakers' bigs to get into foul trouble and get them off the court. Pekovic is -37 in the two meetings over 45+ minutes, while Gasol and Bynum have been dominant. Gasol has 43 points and 10 rebounds and is +39 in those two games. Bynum has gone for 34 and 20, with a +/- of +26. Darko Milicic may be a significant factor inside tonight, just because of his length and defensive presence. He's shown how effective he can be defending other quality scorers like Blake Griffin. Milicic did not play in the first meeting because of an illness, but was quietly effective in game 2.
I believe tonight may be the night Ricky Rubio starts to break out of his slump. Derek Fisher is not of the same quality of point guards that Rubio has been facing lately (Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Steve Nash), and a premier opponent like the Lakers in front of a white-out crowd at Target Center I think will bring out the best from our Spanish sensation. He has looked so tired lately, but this stage will give Rubio an energy boost, especially if Love, Wes, and Luke knock down open three's in the 1st quarter. If I were the Lakers, I would consider using Kobe defensively on Rubio rather than Artest or Fisher, using Kobe's length, athleticism and competitiveness against Ricky. If that happens, the Wolves desperately need Wes to be aggressive against Artest, who has definitely lost a step defensively.
I expect the Wolves to hang in there the entire game tonight, and an emotional late run behind Love and Beasley down the stretch will beat the streak and propel this team deeper into the playoff mix. They say you win by the 3 and die by the 3. Tonight Love, Webster, Wes, Luke, and D-Will have an opportunity to lift this team to a victory over the Lakers, the first in over 5 years.
Follow Wolves Rubes on Twitter @wolvesrubes.