Christmas Day Games are special occasions. Only a few teams a year get to have the honor of playing on Christmas, as these games are usually saved for marquee matchups. This year, we get to watch a re-(re-re-re-re-to infinity) match between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then we get to watch the re-tooled Oklahoma City Thunder take on the surging Houston Rockets.
The Wolves find themselves in this prestigious company (along with the Knicks, Lakers, and 76ers) because they have become a “team-to-watch.” Now, the schedule makers made have overestimated the watchability of this Wolves teams, or the Wolves are certainly good enough to be worthy of this designation.
Their matchup tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers was likely billed as one between two teams on the rise. The Lakers now are awash in young talent with Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Wolves have two the of best young stars in the game in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns alongside a bonafide superstar in Jimmy Butler.
Unfortunately, Lonzo Ball is out tonight, and he has been the engine that drives this Lakers team, as well as their media coverage.
The Lakers actually started out the season better than expected, going 5-5 in their first ten games, but their youth and inexperience has caught up to them. However, there have been two big pleasant surprises for the Lakers this year.
The first is the defense. The Lakers have the 7th best defensive rating in the NBA, which seems quite sustainable at this point in the season. I have not watched enough of the Lakers to truly ascertain what is the secret behind their success, but it is impressive to have such a strong defense when the team is playing such a young roster. The Lakers top-five in minutes per game are all younger than 24 and their young core is starting to round out.
The other unexpected development has been the immediate success of Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma is an older rookie at 22 years old, but he has been one of the best Lakers this season. He leads the team in points per game with 17.7 per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from behind the arc. Kuzma is essentially a stereotypical stretch-four, but it is truly impressive for a rookie to be able to put together that skill-set so quickly.
Even though Ball is not playing tonight, his level of play this season is worth noting. Ball, obviously, came into the league with a ton of hype and heavy skepticism due to his father, but Ball has been able to make a name for himself. However, Ball has proven that he is not a great shooter. It actually is really interesting to take a look at how Ball compares to another good all-around point guard who is known for poor shooting, Ricky Rubio.
Rubio’s rookie season (per game) - 34.2 minutes, 10.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 35.7 shooting, and 34 percent three-point shooting.
Ball’s (per game) - 33.9 minutes, 10 points, 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 34.9 shooting, and 29.7 percent shooting three-point shooting.
However, while many Rubio fans held out hope his shooting would get better because he was shooting above 80 percent from the free throw line, Ball shoots an abysmal 48 percent from the charity line. Lonzo shot better from the free throw line in college, but he still only shot 67 percent from the free throw line in his short collegiate career.
But, as Wolves fans are fully aware, Rubio was able to be a positive contributor to the team. It will be interesting to see if the furor that divided Wolves nation, as well as coaching staffs, about the worth of Rubio will consume the Lakers fanbase if Lonzo in unable to improve his shooting numbers.
As for tonight, this is another game that the Wolves should win, but odds are we will feel anxious throughout. The Lakers play at the fastest pace in the NBA and play solid defense. I wouldn’t bet on this being an easy game to watch, but the Wolves should get a win on Christmas.
Projected Starting Lineups
Josh Hart (If Brandon Ingram remains out)
Prediction - Wolves 110 - Lakers 92. Without Ball, Brook Lopez, and maybe Brandon Ingram, the Wolves just have too much talent for this Lakers team.