Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34) at Los Angeles Lakers (28-30)
Thursday, Feb. 28
Staples Center, Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. EST (TNT)
First, the good news.
Ricky Rubio’s knee looks fine. He’s cutting, sprinting, running backwards, defending – all the things that everyone was concerned about when he came back from the ACL tear.
And power forward Derrick Williams has finally started to show some of the talent that caused the Minnesota Timberwolves to spend the second overall draft pick on him a few years back.
Now the bad news.
Just about everything else.
The Timberwolves’ season is circling the drain. Again. Hopes of being anything more than another game on everyone else’s schedule left town when All-Star forward Kevin Love went down with a broken hand after playing only 18 games. Love has started to rehab and may be back in a few weeks, but challenging for a playoff spot has been a pipedream for a while now.
With Love out of the photo for now, coach Rick Adelman is trying to hold things together, but a string of recent close losses has everyone frustrated. On Feb. 13 the Wolves held Utah to 10 points in the first period but couldn’t hang on at home and lost by 4. Last weekend they had the Warriors by the short hairs but couldn’t close at home, blowing a late lead and losing by 1. And on Tuesday night a spate of late turnovers led to a 1-point overtime loss to the Suns in Phoenix in a game that wasted a solid 21/12 game from the emerging Williams.
Tonight’s game against the Lakers at the Staples Center will be more than a tough test for the Wolves. The Lakers are fighting a shrinking NBA calendar as they grasp and claw for every win that could enable them to avoid the embarrassment of a trip to the Draft Lottery, and beating the have-nots of the league like the Timberwolves is an absolute priority. The Lakers have 5 home games left against sub.-500 teams, and they pretty much need to run the table in those games, starting with the T-Wolves tonight.
That the Lakers are this close (3 games out) to a playoff berth is due to a healthy 8-wins-in-12-games spurt. The offense has shown signs of life, putting up more than 100 points five straight times, and even Dwight Howard has shown signs of emerging from his cave after a long winter’s nap, averaging 14 rebounds a game over the last four.
THE PICK – It’s not too hard to expect Kobe & Co. mobilize for one last run at the final Western Conference playoff slot, but they absolutely have to take care of business at home because 10 of their 15 games in March will be on the road, where they have lost just two 2 of every 3 games this season (10-19). The Wolves are bit worn down, so the Lakers figure to take care of business in tonight’s TNT nightcap.
LOS ANGELES 113, MINNESOTA 98.