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Wolves at Lakers: Visiting the Western Conference Favorite

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Minnesota heads to the Staples Center for a Sunday Night tipoff

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves at Lakers

8:30pm CST

FS North

After losing in such horrid fashion on Friday night, all a competitor wants is a chance to get back in action and erase the memory of the prior result.

Well, the Timberwolves certainly have an opportunity to do so this evening. The Wolves, in what feels like the beginning of a free fall, get to waltz on in to the Staples Center to face off with the buzzsaw that is the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 20-3, LA is on a 71 win pace, and they’ve been every bit as good as that suggests. They enter play tonight with the #3 defense and #5 offense, good for the 3rd best net-rating in the NBA. They look like a lock to make it at least to the Western Conference Finals.

As great as LA has been, maybe it shouldn’t really come as a surprise given that, you know, they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

While AD is great, LeBron has really been the catalyst for this team. With LeBron on the floor, the Lakers own a net-rating of +12.1. Without him, it’s at -0.8, giving him a differential of +12.9. It isn’t a perfect science, of course, but AD’s differential is at -4.7. There’s plenty of noise in there, but the common theme has been the Lakers dominating teams whenever LeBron has been on the floor. He’s reengaged and refocused this year.

Beyond the talent disparity, this is as bad of a matchup as there is for the Wolves. For one, they really don’t have anyone to throw at LeBron. There’s nobody on the team with both the defensive skill and size/strength to handle him. Regardless of who they throw at him, they’re going to be giving up something.

Secondly, there isn’t a big man in the NBA who is better equipped to defend Karl-Anthony Towns than his fellow University of Kentucky alumni, Anthony Davis. AD is a frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason. His size, length, and mobility could cause some real problems for KAT. There may not be anyone else in the NBA capable of hanging with KAT both inside and out, but Davis certainly has the tools to do so.

In addition to his individual defense on KAT, he blows up pick-and-rolls using his size, length, and mobility to harass opponents into turnovers or bad shots. Assuming he’s able to play, Davis will test just how good Andrew Wiggins has really become with his decision making.

Individually, both of those guys are awesome, stopping them together in the PnR will be the biggest challenge for Minnesota. There really isn’t a good way to defend it due to how talented each guy is.

On the Wolves’ end of things, this should be a good test for Jarrett Culver. He’s probably going to struggle some, but getting some reps against a defense this good will be beneficial for him in the long-term. The Lakers bully you defensively, using monstrous size to beat teams down. Culver holding his own tonight would be a really nice sign.

As mentioned before, I assume we’ll see a lot of AD on KAT, but that makes the other matchups a bit odd for LA given how big they play. Davis famously prefers to play the 4 as opposed to the 5, and that’s worked out incredibly well for the Lakers this season. In a matchup against a team that’ll have Robert Covington playing the 4 most of the time, does that leave one of Javale McGee or Dwight Howard to chase him around? Will LA size down? Probably not, and the Wolves may have to play two bigs to avoid getting killed on the glass anyways.

One quick side note, Dwight Howard has objectively been awesome this season. He’s playing fantastic defense, finishing when called upon, and rebounding at a high rate. Good for him for accepting his new role and getting back to playing meaningful minutes.

Last, but certainly not least, I’m pretty excited to watch Danny Green tonight. He’s one of my favorite role players in the league, and is always a treat to watch. He plays his role so, so well. He, along with Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc. will be hounding Minnesota ball-handlers all evening. If the Wolves are able to be competitive tonight, win or lose, that would be reason for optimism.

Projected Lineups

Lakers

LeBron James

Danny Green

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Anthony Davis

Javale McGee

Timberwolves

Jarrett Culver

Josh Okogie

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Covington

Karl-Anthony Towns

Our blogging buddies are over at Silver Screen and Roll. Be excellent.