Commentary

Lakers tough on Love

Despite great success this season, the Wolves' Kevin Love has struggled against L.A.

Updated: March 18, 2011, 9:37 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Kevin Love has played 69 games this season.

In 63 of those games, he's recorded a double-double, including a record streak of 53 straight double dips that ended Sunday, but not before he passed Moses Malone's previous mark of 51.

Love has played the Los Angeles Lakers three times this season, and he recorded a double-double in only two of those games.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesKevin Love has been virtually unstoppable off the glass all season, but the Lakers have given him a significantly difficult time.

The third-year forward out of UCLA went off for 23 points and 24 rebounds the first time the two teams met, a 99-94 Lakers win on Nov. 9.

He followed that up 10 days later with his worst game of the season, finishing with zero points and seven rebounds in a 112-95 loss to the Lakers, and he barely kept his double-double streak alive in early March when he went 2-for-10 from the field against L.A. en route to 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 90-79 loss.

All of this is to say, the Lakers have kept the first-time All-Star in check this season as effectively as any team has. Love is averaging 20.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game this year, but just 12 and 14 against the Lakers.

"Some of it's familiarity," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson after practice Thursday when asked to explain L.A.'s success against Love. "Lamar [Odom] played against him all summer and I'm sure they had many scrimmages against one another, so I'm sure he has a little bit of feel for him as a player."

Love and Odom teamed up on USA Basketball's gold-medal winning entry in Turkey at the FIBA World Championship; Love averaged 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds to Odom's 7.1 and 7.7.

Odom's regular-season averages -- 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds -- pale in comparison to Love's averages, but then again the Lakers have 48 wins compared to just 17 for the Wolves.

Lakers versus Timberwolves is hardly about Odom versus Love, especially because Odom will be playing for a third consecutive title when the playoffs rolls around and could be in line for the Sixth Man Award while Love will have an early start to his summer.

But when Love comes back to L.A., it's always a story, especially when his Bruins are playing in the NCAA tournament. A camera crew from a Los Angeles TV station showed up after the Lakers' media availability was over Thursday, not because the crew was late but because it was coming to El Segundo to interview Love; the Timberwolves were using the practice facility after the Lakers.

Los Angeles has tweaked its defense significantly since the first game against the Wolves, when Love dropped his 20-20 game. Now the defense calls for Andrew Bynum to be anchored inside, patrolling the paint, while the Lakers' wing defenders run 3-point shooters off the line.

Which means the Lakers' D has shored up to take away two areas that just so happen to be the biggest strengths of Love's offensive game.

According to HoopData.com, Love is shooting 309-for-577 (53.6 percent) from the rim to 9 feet from the basket. A lot of those attempts come off offensive rebounds (Love leads the league with 4.6 per game). Not only will Love's shot attempts inside be challenged by the 7-foot, 290-pound Bynum, but Love will also have Bynum to contend with on the glass. Bynum is averaging 8.4 defensive rebounds per game since the All-Star break.

Love's other main offensive strength is being able to shoot from long range as a 6-10, 260-pound forward. Love is shooting 87-for-206 (42.2 percent) on 3-pointers this season, but the Lakers are ranked fifth in the league in opponents' 3-point percentage, holding the teams they face to just 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.

The one area on the court that the Lakers' revamped defense concedes is the midrange game. This doesn't help Love out at all. According to HoopData.com, Love is shooting just 25-for-74 (33.7 percent) this season on shots 10-15 feet from the basket (or close midrange shots) and just 43-for-126 (34.1 percent) when he's 16-23 feet from the basket (or long midrange shots).

The Lakers should be prepared for Love once again on Friday.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.