Wolves Monday: Walking in L.A.

LOS ANGELES – We’re going to try something different for today’s Wolves Monday post. I was on vacation in Los Angeles this weekend, and the cool thing about being a sports writer on vacation in Los Angeles is that you can just pick up on a whim and go watch Dwight Howard’s first game in a Lakers uniform.

Which is what I did. Call it scouting for the state of the Western Conference this season. Call it obsessive compulsive disorder that I think “working” on vacation is a great idea. Whatever. It was a moment you can’t help but want to witness.

The game was fun to watch, without a doubt, in a way that few preseason games are. Forget the score, 99-92 Kings. (Yes, the Kings beat the Lakers in Dwight Howard’s debut. It’s the preseason. That can happen.) Before it started, Howard’s teammates shoved him out onto the court alone; they waited in the wings in the best kind of prank, allowing their new star a moment alone in the glaring spotlight of Staples.

Get used to it, Dwight. This is going to be fun.

And then the game started, and it was Pau to Dwight and then Kobe to Dwight, ball to Dwight, ball to Dwight, ball to Dwight.

His involvement in this first game was a little forced, as perhaps it should have been, and the Lakers are still adjusting to their new Princeton offense. The bench was no fun to watch, no fun at all, but the Pau-Kobe-Steve-Dwight-Metta show was too fun to let that make any difference.

So what does this mean for the Timberwolves? It means the Lakers are going to be darn good. Like, impossible to beat good. Like, that 19-game losing streak is not going to be ending anytime soon, save for some kind of miracle or an onslaught of Lakers injuries.

If last night’s preseason game proved anything, it’s the disparate gap between the best and the worst in the Western Conference. Yes, Sacramento won, but the Kings are in a different echelon than the Lakers. That will be clear come the regular season. What the Timberwolves need to do is establish themselves as unquestionably superior to the Kings of the league, and then they’ll have a shot. There will be no cracking into the Lakers-Thunder-Spurs (maybe add the Nuggets to that group) stratosphere, but there should be a lot of blurry area below them in which the Timberwolves can establish themselves, especially when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio return.

So what’s the bigger takeaway from an ultimately meaningless game that will still go down in history as Dwight’s first in the purple and gold? Well, the Lakers are going to be impossible to defend this year. And it’s amazing what money can buy, or at least assemble.

On the radio on my way to Staples, I listened as a deejay took a moment to mention the upcoming game, calling the Lakers a “dream team.” By that point, Howard was no longer a gametime decision. He was playing, officially, and the frenzy had begun. Maybe the Lakers aren’t quite ready for such a loaded description as dream team, but there’s little doubt that what looks so good on paper right now is going to be even better in the flesh.

GM survey: The annual NBA GM survey came out Monday, and the Timberwolves warranted a few mentions. Here’s a brief synopsis:

One (likely insane) GM picked them to finish first in the Northwest Division. The Thunder and Nuggets got the rest of the votes in that category.

Kevin Love got the highest marks (30 percent of votes) as the league’s best power forward, beating out Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Garnett and Blake Griffin. (Note that LeBron was voted best small forward and Kevin Garnett is more of a center these days.) He also was voted best offensive rebounder (53.3 percent of votes) and as making the most of limited ability (34.5 percent).

Brandon Roy got two votes as the most underrated player acquisition. Alexey Shved also received a vote in that category. (Note: So did Darko.)

The Timberwolves tied with the Lakers, each with 10.3 percent of votes, for most improved. Only Brooklyn (62.1 percent of votes) received more.

Andrew Kirlenko got votes for best international player. Ricky Rubio got 13.8 percent of votes (tied for second-most overall) for international player poised for breakout season. Also in that category: Nikola Pekovic (13.8 percent), Shved (6.9 percent).

The Timberwolves did not warrant a single mention in the defensive categories.

Rick Adelman got votes in the best coach, best offense (27.6 percent) and best in-game adjustments category (6.7 percent).


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