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Kobe-less Lakers host Timberwolves Friday
By: Freddy Wander - StatFox
Published: 12/20/2013  at  7:06:00 AM
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Tip-off: Friday, 10:35 p.m. ET
Line: Minnesota -6, Total: 210

The Lakers once again start life without Kobe Bryant when they host the Timberwolves on Friday night.

Los Angeles had superstar SG Kobe Bryant back for just six games before losing him once again to a major injury. A fracture in his left knee will keep Bryant off the floor for the next six weeks. The team was only 2-4 SU and ATS with Bryant in the lineup though, and was still able to beat the Grizzlies, 96-92, in Memphis on Tuesday night after the future Hall of Famer suffered his injury. Minnesota has been a hit-or-miss team all season, going 6-9 (SU and ATS) in its past 15 games, but scored a big win against Portland on Thursday night. The Wolves defeated the Blazers 120-109 while shooting a blistering 49.5% from the field and outrebounding them by eight. They are 5-9 SU on the road but have done well ATS (8-6), while the Lakers have done rather poorly defending their home court with a 6-6 SU record (7-4-1 ATS). These two teams played each other on Nov. 10 at Staples Center with Minnesota winning in a 113-90 blowout by outshooting L.A. 49% FG to 38% FG. The victory ended an amazing 22-game win streak that the Lakers had over the Wolves, which is tied for the fourth-longest streak of one team's dominance over another in NBA history. But despite the long run, Minnesota is actually 38-35 ATS in this series since 1996, including 22-15 ATS (60%) in Los Angeles. The Wolves are also 20-9 ATS (69%) versus poor teams (minus-3 PPG margin) over the past two seasons, but are just 133-193 ATS (41%) when facing teams that average 7 or less steals per game since 1996. In addition to Bryant's injury, the Lakers have three other players out indefinitely, PG Steve Nash (back), PG Steve Blake (elbow) and SG Jordan Farmar (hamstring). Minnesota has been missing both C Ronny Turiaf (elbow) and SF Chase Budinger (knee) for more than a month.

Will the Timberwolves produce another win against the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers on Friday? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The five experts are streaking at 62% ATS (36-22) on Best Bets in December, including 10-1 ATS since Monday. During this timeframe, StatFox Zach has a stellar 92% ATS mark (11-1) and is currently 60% ATS (22-15) on Best Bets for the season. StatFox Dave has an excellent 75% ATS (9-3) Best Bets record in December and is 53% ATS (19-17) on Best Bets for the season.

The Timberwolves rank third in the NBA in scoring (105.7 PPG), with 100+ points in each of their 13 wins this season, but are shooting only 42.6% from the field (4th-worst in NBA). They are also terrible on defense, allowing 102.0 PPG (5th-worst in league) with the NBA's worst shooting defense at 47.3% FG allowed. PF Kevin Love is the top rebounder in the league (13.7 RPG) and ranks fourth in scoring (25.2 PPG). He has a double-double in all but two games that he has played in this season and has shot an impressive clip from long-range in seven December games (49.1% threes). Love scored 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds when these teams met last month, and has averaged 15.6 PPG with 13.4 RPG in 14 career games (11 starts) in this series. SG Kevin Martin (20.6 PPG, 40% threes, 1.3 SPG) is having a bounce back year after scoring only 14.0 PPG in Oklahoma City last season. He scored 27 points on 11-for-23 shooting versus the Lakers on Nov. 10 to increase his scoring average to 15.3 PPG (45% FG) in 23 career games against them. C Nikola Pekovic (16.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG) is the perfect fit at center for this team and is coming off a season high 30-point game on Wednesday night. He averaged 13.7 PPG and 9.3 RPG in three starts against the Lakers last season and produced a double-double of 14 points and 10 boards against them last month. PG Ricky Rubio (9.4 PPG, 7.9 APG) is second in the NBA in steals (2.9 SPG) and it was his triple-double (12 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) and five steals against L.A. on Nov. 10 that helped end his team's 22-game losing streak to the Lakers.

Los Angeles has done surprisingly well without Kobe Bryant for the majority of the season, scoring a strong 100.3 PPG (15th in NBA) while making the second-most three-pointers (9.7 per game) on the fifth-best clip in the league (38.3%). The defense has really struggled though, allowing 103.4 PPG, which makes it the second-worst scoring defense in the NBA. PF Pau Gasol (14.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG) has become trade bait once again for the Lakers. He had a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) when facing the Timberwolves earlier this season and was tremendous against them in two games last season, scoring 19.5 PPG (59.3% FG) and grabbing 10.5 RPG. SF Nick Young (14.9 PPG, 38% threes) has taken over as the teamís leading scorer this season, but struggled against Minnesota on Nov. 10 with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. He also was only 1-for-7 from the field and 4-for-9 from the foul line in his game against them last season. SG Jodie Meeks (12.4 PPG, 43% threes) has provided the team with more depth at the shooting guard position and will be a major factor once again with Bryant out. He poured in 16 points on 6-of-10 FG last month against the Wolves. PF Jordan Hill (9.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG) is shooting 72% from the field in eight December games, but has seen his minutes fluctuate due to his inconsistent play. He scored seven points with nine rebounds earlier this season against the Timberwolves.

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