Lakers at Wolves
7:00 pm CDT
There is plenty to talk about regarding the Lakers, and we’ll get to that below, but for an early season game, this one strikes me as a relatively big deal for this year’s Wolves squad. After their dismal performance against the Bucks, will they show some fight and bounce back in a winnable home game, or was that game a sign that the dysfunction that hangs over this team is going to scuttle the season early?
Things aren’t going to get easier schedule wise for a while, with the Jazz following the Lakers to town before the Wolves embark on a five game West Coast road trip that begins in Oakland against the Warriors and then the Blazers in Portland. If things don’t turn around, things could get away from the Wolves early. I suspect some fans wouldn’t object to that if it leads to the changes many of us see as necessary, namely resolving the Jimmy Butler situation and replacing Tom Thibodeau, but I still think Thibs will get a long leash regardless of results.
At any rate, this feels like a game the Wolves need to win. Whether they feel that same urgency and have the wherewithal to play well as a team and get that win remains to be seen.
The Lakers, as might have been expected, are off to an up-and-down start, and sport the same 2-4 record as the Wolves. They lost their first three games of the season, won a couple, and are coming off a close loss at San Antonio. They’ve been dealing with missing players and lineup shuffles following suspensions to Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, but Ingram returns tonight and they should have their entire roster available. For the Wolves, Andrew Wiggins is listed as questionable with a thigh bruise that has kept him out the last couple of games.
LeBron James has started the season looking like the MVP level player he is, averaging 27-9-8 through six games. He’s obviously changed the culture and expectations for the Lakers, and it’s hard to see them not getting better as the season progresses, as long as they stay healthy.
The Lakers have been solid offensively but struggled on defense, a combination we’re very familiar with as Wolves fans, and could lead to big scoring numbers tonight, especially if these teams push pace. The Lakers have been focused on playing fast and are fourth in the league in pace, while the Wolves have obviously made an effort to speed things up as well.
Where the Lakers have really shined is around the rim. They are second in the league in two-point field goal percentage at 58 percent (only trailing the Warriors) and this is largely because they are tops in the league in percentage of shot attempts that are within three feet. They are getting to the rim more than any other team in the league (40 percent of their shot attempts are within three feet) and are fifth in the league at converting those short shots.
A lot of this happens in transition. The Lakers lead the league in fast break points at over 26 per game, so the Wolves are going to have to avoid live ball turnovers and be diligent about getting back, something that has plagued them in the past. If the Lakers can make this an open court game, it’s going to be difficult for the Wolves. They have to stifle the Lakers running game.
Of course James makes everything easier, both in transition and in the half court. His ability to get to and convert at the rim draws so much attention that it frees up his terrific passing ability and creates easier baskets for everyone.
Defensively, the Lakers have done a good job in limiting opponent three point attempts, but similarly to their offense, they allow teams to get to the rim fairly easily (3rd most in the league.) On the other hand, they do a better job of protecting the rim when guys get there, with a 6th best defensive field goal percentage within three feet. Still, the Wolves will have to attack the rim and get to the line to be successful tonight; settling for jumpers probably won’t be good enough.
I expect we’ll see a lot of Lakers jerseys at Target Center tonight, as we always do when the Lakers are in town. Hopefully the Wolves can disappoint them.
Andrew Wiggins (or Josh Okogie)
Our blogging buddies are over at Silver Screen and Roll. Be excellent.