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Wolves at Lakers: The Doldrums of April

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The Wolves play the Lakers in a battle for draft positioning

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (31-48) at Lakers (24-55)
Staples Center
8:30 CST, NBATV

Tonight is a by-the-book case of a NBA game that does not matter, excluding for tanking purposes.

The Wolves have been out of the playoffs for several weeks and only continue to tumble down the standings as their defense as dissipated into the wind. The Lakers are dealing with their own turmoil, as their accidental winning streak has made it more likely that they will not be drafting this year, as if they fall out of the top-3 their pick is conveyed to the 76ers (#Trust the Process).

In fact, the more useful standings to take a look at for tonight’s game come from Tankathon, which shows that the Lakers are now 1.5 games behind Phoenix for the “2-seed,” which means they only have an approximate 46 percent chance to land in the top-3. The Wolves are all tied up with the Kings for the “8th-seed” and tonight is really the only winnable game remaining as the final two games will be against the Thunder and the Rockets.

However, the Wolves should be more than up for the task of losing to the Lakers tonight, as the current team-wide disinterest in defense should be enough to ensure that the red-hot Lakers are able to sabotage their own self-interest at the end of the season. Since March 15th, when the Wolves received the unofficial tanking memo (distributed by Layden Co. without the approval of Board Chair Tom Thibodeau) the team has gone an astounding 3-10, which is the second worst mark in the league.

The Lakers have been known for their porous defense all season, with a terrible season-long rating of 110.9, which ranks 29th in the league. However, the Wolves have gone above and beyond their call to duty and, since March 15th, the team has posted an astounding defensive rating of 118.1. That is not great, unless of course your goal is to give your fan base creeping doubts about your franchise’s future, which, if so, bravo.

The Lakers have been riding the full-youth movement for quite some time now, as they have completely ignored their high-priced veterans, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, that they signed over the off-season. Even Nick Young is finding that he has to take a back-seat as Swaggy P was potentially deemed “too good” for the tanking efforts.

But the Lakers have won three straight games, including a win against the San Antonio Spurs. The “core” of the Lakers has looked suspect at times, but if Wolves fans are tentative about the combination of Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns due to defensive concerns, then Lakers fans certainly have some words for you.

However, the offensive potential of D’Angelo Russel, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson is certainly there, and Brandon Ingram has begun to show flashes that demonstrate his high draft selection. Not to mention, Larry Nance Jr has been pretty solid all year and certainly is a great find for the Lakers.

But enough about season-long trends and stats. Tonight is game night and all that goes out the window. All we have do is ask ourselves one (and some) question. Do the Wolves have it in them to lose another late-season game against a seemingly inferior opponent? Will the Wolves’ starters play too many minutes and manage to eke out another end-of-game loss after blowing a lead in the second half? Will Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn barely see the floor? Is Brandon Rush more cooked than microwaved chicken?

Unequivocally, yes.

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Lakers match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Lakers

eFG% / 51.0% / 50.1%

TOV% / 14.4 / 15.0

ORB% / 27.4% / 25.1%

FTR / .287 / .260

Clean sweep by the Wolves in the four factors, as one would expect when playing a drastically inferior team. However, the Wolves are no stranger to losing games to much worse teams.

Expected Starting Lineups

Wolves

Ricky Rubio
Brandon Rush
Andrew Wiggins
Gorgui Dieng
Karl-Anthony Towns

Lakers

Jordan Clarkson
D’Angelo Russell
Brandon Ingram
Julius Randle
Larry Nance Jr.

Prediction: Wolves 110 - Lakers 116

BONUS PREDICTION: Wolves fans’ mood after a loss to the Lakers