This was certainly an odd game. This Wolves team was not the broken Wolves team that we have come to know from the most recent games against the Bucks and the Raptors, but rather the semi-competent team from last year had a tendency to flail about when flustered. However, the boon for the Wolves is that they were playing the mishmash Lakers, full of young athletic dynamos and veteran journeyman.
To wit, there was a string of possessions where Derrick Rose repeatedly attacked JaVale McGee at the rim, being turned away each time, but when the Lakers recovered the ball Lance Stephenson turned it right back over by barreling through Gorgui Dieng.
Defense was certainly not required in tonight. The Lakers have made it a point to push the pace, currently playing at the 4th highest pace in the league, and the Wolves followed suit. Thankfully, at least in the first half, LeBron James seemed content to just hang out and let the rest of his teammates work. JaVale McGee was swatting shots at the rim, Brandon Ingram was being super long, and the rest of the Lakers were keeping pace with the Wolves.
However, LeBron did decide to turn it on in the second half and the Wolves certainly made no separation throughout the entire game. Somehow, LeBron wound up with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in one of his more lackadaisical efforts. Sometimes I feel like he must just see the box scores for the Warriors (such as their game tonight) and feel like maybe just taking the year off with these Lakers is the right call.
Of course, the Wolves did not just walk their way into a victory tonight. The Lakers were certainly competitive throughout, with Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma pouring in buckets. The problem for the Lakers is that the Wolves still have Jimmy Butler on their roster.
Butler was also quiet for much of the game, not really taking over but impacting the game in his own way with a few hard drives at the rim and a steal here and there. But in the fourth quarter, Butler was on fire from deep and took over the game. Butler ended up scoring 32 points while shooting 12-20 from the field, but 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. He simply was not missing in the fourth quarter, regardless of if there was a hand in his face or not.
Karl-Anthony Towns also bounced back tonight with a good showing of his own. It’s pretty obvious the Lakers have no way to guard big men. Outside of McGee, who can only play limited minutes, there is simply not a relevant center on the roster. Talented bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns just shred this team on the boards. Towns had an incredible 10 offensive rebounds all by himself, with the team finishing with 20 offensive boards.
Overall, Towns played great defense and was his typical efficient self on offense (not counting several plays where he continuously missed his shot than grabbed his own rebound). Towns ended up with a ridiculous line of 25 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks.
Additionally, it truly seems like Josh Okogie is a pretty legitimate NBA player. The dude just looks like he belongs on the court already, which is an incredible find at the 20th pick in the draft. Okogie had a career high in points and had several highlight worthy plays. Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, Okogie is going to get minutes on this team.
This was a good Derrick Rose game in the very beginning that quickly devolved into a bad Derrick Rose game. The main question with Rose and Thibs is what happens when Rose is not playing well. Tonight provided one example, where Thibs had Rose with the crunch time lineups. For all the positives Rose provided at the beginning of the game, he continuously forced shots at the rim against JaVale McGee and ended up a rough 4 of 16 from the field.
As for everyone else, they were their normal selves. Anthony Tolliver’s quick release always will make me happy to see. Gorgui Dieng had some good moments interspersed with a few headscratching ones. Jeff Teague was pretty quiet and ignored a ton of wide-open threes for himself. Tyus Jones barely sees the floor at this point and when he does the basketball is typically in the hands of Rose. Taj was Taj, which is to say that he was absolutely great.
It feels a bit out of sorts to be writing this recap with such a cynical tone. This should be a moment of jubilation, as the Wolves won a great game against a team that they would theoretically be competing with for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Yet the joy rings hallow, as it was a victory on the back of a player who is not long for this team against a superstar who looked as if he decided this one just was not worth the effort. That he could just relax and let the rest of his team decide his fate, win or lose.
At the very least, it was nice to not see the broken Wolves team that we recently experience. However, it is hard to believe that team is not lurking below the surface.