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Wolves vs. Lakers Game Thread

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The Timberwolves hope to close out the weekend back-to-back home stand with a win over the visiting LA Lakers.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves vs. Lakers
6:00 PM CDT
Television coverage on Fox Sports North

The Wolves will be playing the second game of a weekend home back-to-back tonight, following a blowout loss last night to the LA Clippers. I won’t get into the nuances of last night, John did a great job covering that here. Bottom line, the Wolves are now 2-6 with their only wins coming against a Memphis team that rested their stars and a very underwhelming Orlando Magic squad. The Wolves really, really need a win tonight.

The Other Team

Meanwhile, the Lakers also played a basketball game last night, a game in which they dominated the New Orleans Anthony Davises Pelicans by a final score of 126-99. The Lakers now boast a record of 6-4 which includes impressive wins over the Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors, and a surprising road record of 3-3.

The Lakers have been one of the biggest surprises of this young season. The Vegas pre-season over/under line for total wins for the Lakers this season was set at 24.5, which was tied with the Sixers and only a few games more than the predicted worst record Nets. Although a lackluster record is still a possibility, things certainly appear to be trending towards a much better season than that for LA.

I’ve watched quite a bit of the Lakers so far this season, and they are really playing solid team basketball. They currently hold League-wide rankings of 9th in ORtg (109.7), 14th in DRtg (105.9), 4th in eFG% (.532), and are 7th in total rebounding. On the flipside, they do turn the ball over a ton, to the tune of over 17 times per game. This is a weakness that the Wolves can hopefully take advantage of.

Overall, the Lakers are a decent team. Luke Walton appears to be a very good coach. He did a fantastic job as the interim head coach for the Warriors during the first half of last season, but it wasn’t clear if that was a reflection of good coaching or more attributable to the Warriors being some sort of Dr. Who death machine that you just need to flip the “on” switch and let it run loose. At this point, I’m pretty confident that Walton (who has championship rings as both a player and coach) is a more than competent coach. He puts together smart rotations, especially in crunch time, where the Lakers have been very good at finishing out games with a surprisingly effective and minutes-heavy crunch time group of Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Nick Young, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. One of the more interesting storylines for the Lakers so far has been the absence of the big name, big contract offseason acquisitions Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov in the late game minutes rotations. Walton appears to simply have more trust in the chemistry of his young core alongside the scoring threat of Lou Williams and the new-and-improved-and-actually-playing-defense-now Nick Young. It has worked so far.

I’ll just say it - the Lakers are a fun team right now. In fact, they are a likeable team right now. They play a fast paced brand of offense, use a lot of ball movement, and jack up a bunch of threes. They have a promising young core along with some other useful vets, and play a grown man who calls himself Swaggy P for 27 minutes a game. Are you not entertained? It’s probably worth noting that there is a slight possibility that my personal praise of the Lakers has a non-zero level of bias because...

I Love Larry And So Can You

MVP candidate Larry Nance Jr. will be playing for the yellow jersey team tonight. Larry Nance Jr. is my favorite player in the universe. For those of you that don’t know, I live in Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming where the future Hall-Of-Famer played his collegiate basketball. Larry was a fun NBA story before he ever played a single minute in the League because he wasn’t even projected to be a draft prospect at all even just a few weeks before the 2015 draft. Larry suffers from Crohn’s Disease and also missed quite of playing time during college die to multiple injuries. Although he was an outstanding college player and led the Wyoming Cowboys to a Mountain West Conference championship in 2015, he was generally “flagged” as a high risk/injury prone player prior to the draft. However, he absolutely worked his butt off in pre-draft team workouts, and was able to impress enough to not only earn a draft selection, but as a first round pick (27th overall).

Larry played a promising rookie season last year coming off the bench and averaging 20 minutes per game in a designated role as a stretchy, low usage defensive power forward. The Lakers were abysmal at pretty much everything last year, but King Larry still managed to finish out the season with with positive defensive statistics. So far this season (in a similar 20 MPG role), Larry has shown across-the-board improvement in TRB%, AST%, STL%, BLK%, TS%, and currently has a BPM of +5.7 and a WS/48 of .198 (per basketball-reference.com).

On offense, he’s a very low usage cog, although he’s pretty active setting screens and acting as the initiator for dribble hand-offs or short passes from the top of the key. He doesn’t frequently seek out the ball and he can’t really create for himself, but you have to watch out with helping away from him because if he gets a clear path to the rim, he has some serious burst on his hops and will absolutely ruin the life of whoever is dumb enough to stand in the way. I know it’ pretty early in the season, but I think it’s pretty safe to go ahead and crown this as Dunk of the Year.

*Sidenote - After David West was gently laid to rest by our hero, there was some chatter that maybe the likely All-NBA First Teamer’s televangelist style exorcism dunk was bit disrespectful. Do not be fooled, and don’t feel sorry for David West. He had this coming. You see, back on February 8, 2009, David West committed a particularly egregious flagrant foul on former Timberwolf Mike Miller. I have proof.

I distinctly remember watching that game, and at that moment I thought to myself - “Cheap shot bruh, this aggression will not stand.” And stand it would not. Just like the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold and seven years later by a guy on a different team that by tangential happenstance played collegiate basketball in the same town where one of the offended team’s fan blog contributors claims current domicile. A cold dish indeed.

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota

Point Guard - Ricky Rubio

Shooting Guard - Zach LaVine

Small Forward - Andrew Wiggins

Power Forward - Gorgui Dieng

Center - Karl Anthony Towns

Los Angeles

Point Guard - Jordan Clarkson

Shooting Guard - D’Angelo Russell

Small Forward - Luol Deng

Power Forward - Julius Randle

Center - Timofey Mozgov

On paper, both of these teams want to run and we should expect a scoring barn burner. However, with both teams playing on the tail end of back-to-backs, energy and effort might be a wild card in play. Things could get messy.

Defensively, I don’t really think either team matches up with the other very well. The Wolves’ wings (namely Wiggins and LaVine) should theoretically have a significant offensive advantage over the Lakers, whose only proven wing defender is Luol Deng (who is averaging only 24 minutes per game). We should be seeing a heavy dose of Russell, Clarkson, Young, and Williams as the Lakers’ wings, and that could bode well for the Wolves offensively from the backcourt. I also don’t foresee Mozgov and Tarik Black having much of an answer for Towns as a shooter and post threat. On the other hand, the Wolves are going to have to be disciplined on the defensive end to try to mitigate the damage from one of the League’s better shooting teams. The Wolves have not been good defensively, with a DRtg of 110.7 (good for 28th in the NBA) and an opponent eFG% of .529 (29th). Not ideal.

Despite the fact that it’s still really early in the season, this is a pretty important game for both squads. The Wolves are looking to get a much needed home win to avoid falling to 2-7 with some tough upcoming matchups slated this week, including vs. Charlotte, @ Memphis, and vs. Boston (with a palate cleansing home game vs. the Sixers in there as well). We certainly aren’t there yet, but one does have to wonder what when the fingers will start hovering over the proverbial panic button. For the Lakers, they are hoping to secure another road win an improve to 7-4 before entering a really tough stretch of games over the next two weeks including San Antonio, Chicago, OKC, a home-and-home with the Warriors, and Atlanta. That’s a pretty brutal cluster for anyone.

I guess that’s it for now. This is an open game thread, so chat it up. Go Wolves!