Gameday Dish: Wolves vs. Lakers

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix SunsThe Timberwolves have had a rough go of it this season. They sit in 12th place in the Western Conference at 20-34 and are a miserable 3-14 over their last 17 contests.

Life won’t get any easier for the shorthanded Wolves tonight when they face the Lakers. The host of this evening’s 48 have bested the Wolves 20 straight times, the longest active streak in the NBA.

These two sides last met on February 1st in Minnesota with the Lakers prevailing 111-100. Bryant led the way with 17 points, 12 boards and 8 dimes. Five other Lakers scored in double figures, and they battered the Wolves on the glass, 57-40.

Excuses don’t cut it at the pro level, however veteran coach Rick Adelman’s team has been decimated by injuries to key players. 2X All-Star and member of the 2012 USA Gold Medal Olympic team Kevin Love has suited up for only 18 games this season.

Athletic SF Chase Budinger has only competed in 6 contests, and 3X All-Star Brandon Roy a mere 5. Last year’s runner-up for ROY Ricky Rubio has been back for 29 after tearing his ACL last March.

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver NuggetsAnd to make a terrible situation worse, 11th-year starting SF Andrei Kirilenko will be sidelined after straining his left calf in Tuesday’s overtime loss to Phoenix.

At 28-30 and currently in 9th place in the West, the Lakers have had to overcome injuries to Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. But their poor record can mostly be attributed to problems gelling, advanced age and internal strife.

This Laker team with Kobe, Pau, Dwight, Nash, World Peace and Antawn Jamison was expected to make a run at the 2013 title. After all, their starting five has an All-Star at every position and a total of 33 All-Star game appearances between them. But after just 5 games coach Mike Brown was fired and Mike D’Antoni was hired.

Los Angeles has been playing better ball of late going 11-5 in their last 16. However, the Lakers displayed two of their main weaknesses, turnovers and free throw shooting, in Tuesday’s 119-108 loss at Denver. They committed 15 turnovers and shot 14 for 31 from the charity stripe. Howard is shooting a career-worst 48.5% from the line was a painful 3 for 14.

With only 24 games remaining in the regular season, every one is a must-win for LA if they hope to overtake Houston or Utah for a playoff spot. Tune in to TNT at 10:30 PM ET to see if the once Minneapolis Lakers (1947-1960) can continue clawing their way into playoff contention.

Around the League

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Mike’s Take

Prior to Thursday’s Clippers vs. Wolves matchup on TNT I talked with Timberwolves reporter Jerry Zgoda for the Star Tribune.

Q TNT has a Wolves-Clippers and Lakers-Heat doubleheader Thursday. Not long ago, the Lakers always would have been considered the main event. Has that changed?

A Yep, I think we have to give the Clippers their due. They have the best or second-best record in the NBA along with Oklahoma City, and they’ve certainly earned it, and the Lakers have not done very well after the very high expectations. Right now it’s the Clippers’ town until the Lakers take it back.

Q Does that seem strange to say?

A Yeah, it does, with the history of the Clippers. But it’s a new culture there now. Vinny Del Negro has put his imprint on the team. Chris Paul has been so important. And they’ve made some really good veteran pickups: Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill are just solid people. They’re for real. The playoffs are strange. They could legitimately win it all, they really could.

CLICK HERE for the rest of the interview.

Gameday Dish: Clippers vs. Timberwolves

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe 16-19 Minnesota Timberwolves host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at the Target Center.

Tackling one of the top teams in the league will be a tough assignment for the shorthanded Wolves. They will have to play near-perfect basketball to beat this talented, veteran Clippers team.

The 30-9 Clips own the NBA’s second best record behind Oklahoma, and many consider them to be the deepest team in the league. Coach Vinny Del Negro’s squad has won 7 of their last 10 games including their last two on the road.

All-Universe PG Chris Paul missed both wins due to a bruised right kneecap he suffered in a loss to Orlando on Saturday, and he’ll likely be sidelined again tonight. Paul is averaging 16.8 ppg, a league-leading 2.6 spg and 9.7 dimes per game, which is second In the NBA.

Los Angeles beat the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday 117-109. With Paul out, third-year PG Eric Bledsoe stepped into the starting rotation and put up 19 points, 5 dimes, 7 boards and 2 steals. Also, 6th Man of The Year leading candidate Jamal Crawford poured in a season-high 30 points.

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a frustrating season for the injury-riddled Wolves. Minnesota last played on Monday when they lost at Dallas 113-98.

It was the sixth straight game they played without their star Kevin Love, who is out with a broken shooting hand.

In fact, it was a fracture of the same hand that forced the team’s leading scorer and rebounder to miss games at the start of the schedule.

The 24-year-old, 2X All-Star has participated in only 18 of the Wolves 35 games. In addition, 2012 ROY runner-up PG Ricky Rubio has only suited up for 10 contests after returning from a torn ACL he suffered last spring.

The Wolves coaching staff has also taken a hit. Assistant coach Terry Porter has been filling in for headman Rick Adelman, who’s missed the past five games to be with his wife in the hospital.

Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to see whether LA’s new varsity squad can keep rolling in the land of 10,000 lakes or if the depleted T-Wolves will improve on their 10-5 record in the Twin Cities.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Andrei Kirilenko

The 14-13 Minnesota Timberwolves have played 11 games without their do-everything All-Star Kevin Love. And Ricky Rubio, the exciting sophomore PG who finished second in last year’s ROY voting, has missed all but five of the Wolves’ contests so far this season.

First-year Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko has stepped up nicely for coach Rick Adelman to help keep the Minnesota squad competitive even with their roster injuries.

After spending his first 10 seasons with the Utah Jazz, the one time NBA All-Star (2004) and First Team All-Defensive member (2006) returned to his native Russia last year to play for his former European team CSKA Moscow. At the end of the season, Kirilenko was named the 2011-2012 Euroleague MVP.

This past summer the 6’9 combo forward signed with the Timberwolves. Many fantasy GMs were skeptical of how much Kirilenko had left in his NBA basketball tank. Prior to this season, his average fantasy draft position was somewhere near 110 overall. After starting and playing effectively in 23 of the Wolves first 27 contests, his fantasy ranking has soared.

Kirilenko is averaging 35.1 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.7 spg and 1.4 bpg while shooting 52% from the floor. He has season highs of 26 points, 12 boards (2X), 6 dimes (4X), 4 steals (2X) and 4 blocks (2X). Bottom line: This savvy veteran can fill up a stat sheet and is capable in stretches of leading the team at both ends of the floor.

As the long season progresses and he becomes more familiar with his coach and new teammates, look for Kirilenko’s numbers to rise in all categories. He is a value fantasy pick-up right now.