Five things to watch in Lakers-Timberwolves matchup
1. Can the Lakers solve their road woes? The Lakers have shown no signs of doing so, including Saturday night's no-excuses, 100-89 loss to Milwaukee. The Bucks were finishing a back-to-back, having just played Chicago, and were without center Andrew Bogut (ankle) and guard Stephen Jackson (suspension). The Lakers had an incredible size advantage with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Yet, it didn't happen. Minnesota may be even more challenging.
2. How will the Lakers' energy level hold up? Common denominators in the Lakers' road losses have been poor starts and a lack of energy. Considering the Lakers are playing a back-to-back, that could be a bigger worry. It's plausible that losing such a winnable game the night before may spark the Lakers, but the team remains unpredictable in nearly every facet of the game.
3. Pau Gasol meets a challenge in Kevin Love. Minnesota fans had better enjoy the 24.9 points and 13.8 rebounds he's averaging in his fourth NBA season. With the Timberwolves' reluctant to offer him a max deal, it's possible Love will jet in three years. For now, Love provides consistency on the glass, in the post and on mid-range shots.
With Gasol, it's been the exact opposite. Other than his 23-point point outing Wednesday against the Clippers, Gasol has shown a lack of aggression and poor decision-making in the post. Against Milwaukee, Gasol got the ball enough but made only six of 18 shots. The discouraging part for Gasol: Love is much more talented than Bucks forward Drew Gooden.
5. Will Kobe Bryant take over at the beginning? In the last five games, Bryant has averaged 27.6 points per game on 45% shooting and 6.8 assists, down sharply from a four-game stretch earlier this month in which he scored at least 40 points. Bryant is, rightfully, shooting less to save himself for the playoffs, so his teammates must produce. With the Lakers unable to heed that call, however, it wouldn't be a surprise if Bryant set the tone early.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Can Lakers forward Pau Gasol bounce back against Minnesota? Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times