Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, who have combined to score nearly 47 points a game in the playoffs, have carried the Lakers' scoring throughout the postseason. But when the Lakers get supporting players such as Devean George, Derek Fisher, Slava Medvedenko and Kareem Rush involved in the offense, they've been unbeatable.
In their two victories over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals, the Lakers got strong games from those four players. In Game 1, the group combined for 23 points and 22 field-goal attempts, and in Game 3, it was 24 and 21.
In the Lakers' lone defeat, a lopsided loss in Game 2, the foursome accounted for only 12 points and 15 shots.
Timberwolves' move -- Because Minnesota does not like to pound the basketball inside, the Timberwolves have gained a reputation for being a perimeter team that prefers jump shots over penetration drives.
But in Game 3, the Timberwolves did a decent job of attacking the basket and that helped them keep the score close.
Wally Szczerbiak and Latrell Sprewell made their share of outside shots Tuesday and they also were able to penetrate the Lakers' defense with strong moves to the rim. The Timberwolves have to be even more aggressive tonight because they cannot rely on the perimeter game to defeat the Lakers, especially at Staples Center.
Minnesota has to find a way to get Game 4 played at the pace it wants, which is something that did not happen in Game 3. Even if gimpy Sam Cassell is on the court, the Timberwolves have to push the tempo more in order to shake up the Lakers' offensive flow and keep the ball out of Shaquille O'Neal's hands.
The Timberwolves also need their collection of big men (Ervin Johnson, Michael Olowokandi, Mark Madsen and Oliver Miller) to be more determined rebounders than they were Tuesday. In Game 3, they combined for eight rebounds while O'Neal grabbed 17 by himself, including 10 offensive.
Lakers' move -- Their defense was good in spurts Tuesday but they had trouble slowing Szczerbiak, who scored 21 points in 25 minutes. It got so bad at one point, Coach Phil Jackson inserted seldom-used Rick Fox to defend Szczerbiak and the Lakers' stopper at least slowed him by drawing a charging foul.
In Game 2, the Lakers were held to 71 points mainly because of poor spacing and their inability to get the ball to O'Neal. They fixed that problem in Game 3 as they used an inside-outside scheme to throw off the Timberwolves' rotating defense.
Point guard Gary Payton was an early benefactor from the Lakers' selfless offense as he scored 14 points in the first quarter, including two three-point baskets. It's unlikely that Payton will put up those kind of numbers again tonight, but he has to be ready to assert himself if the Timberwolves decide to leave him open to concentrate on O'Neal and Bryant.
Something to look for -- During the regular season, the Timberwolves were one of the best in taking care of the basketball. But in the series against the Lakers, they can't stop turning the ball over.
In their two losses, the Timberwolves averaged 15.5 turnovers. In their Game 2 win, the Timberwolves had only eight. If turnovers are a problem early tonight, expect Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders to turn to former UCLA point guard Darrick Martin.