After coming out of the All-Star break as winners of two of their last three games, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to Staples Center looking to avenge their worst loss of the season, a 36-point beat down back on December 27, 2020 at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The good news? They didn’t lose nearly as bad on Tuesday night as they did back in December. The bad news? They still got dismantled by the defending champions.
Without sounding like a homer, the final score of Tuesday night’s contest doesn’t necessarily do justice to how competitive (and borderline fun) this game truly was (at least for the first three quarters, that is). Minnesota trailed 71-70 at halftime, led by a dominant performance by Ricky Rubio, who started the game 5-for-5, including two early first quarter three-pointers. In LA’s defense, they looked like a veteran team coming off the second night of a back-to-back, but credit to the Wolves for coming out swinging as they attempted to steal one on the road.
For those of you who refused to stay up for this extremely late tip (I don’t blame you), enough cannot be said about how well Rubio played, finishing with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting), 12 assists, 3 steals, and only 1 turnover. The Spanish Unicorn resembled the version many Suns fans saw during his stint in Phoenix, expertly navigating screens to not only setup his teammates, but also to aggressively attack the rim when the opportunity presented itself (12 of Rubio’s 19 points came in the painted area).
But Ricky being Ricky, he also made sure to get his teammates involved as well:
Jaden McDaniels closes out the half with a 3-pointer!#RaisedByWolves pic.twitter.com/SuNFss488d— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 17, 2021
The other key bright spot on the night was the play of both Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, who combined for 58 points on 51% shooting. While Karl did most of his scoring damage on Tuesday in the post (when not constantly swarmed by double teams), he continues to struggle from beyond the arc, connecting on just 26.1% of his 3PA’s in the month of March. After the game, Karl acknowledged that his outside shot isn’t falling, but reassured fans that his struggles won’t deter him from continuing to let it rip:
KAT was 2-8 from 3 tonight and hasn't been as efficient from behind the arc lately.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 17, 2021
"Yeah, it's shitty right now." Says he can't put his finger on why.
"Shooters shoot." Will keep at it.
As for Edwards, it was his second consecutive game scoring 29 or more points on 50% shooting, the first time he’s had back-to-back efficient scoring outputs like that all season.
Anthony Edwards since the ASB— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 17, 2021
@ LAL: 29 PTS | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 TO | 1 STL
v POR: 34 PTS | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 TO | 1 STL
v POR: 21 PTS | 8 REB | 3 AST | 3 TO | 1 STL
@ NO: 27 PTS | 4 REB | 2 AST | 3 TO | 3 STL
• 28.5 PPG on 48.8/42.9/70 splits
• 5 REB
• 1.8 APG
• 1 SPG
As Jack notes above, ANT is now averaging 28.5 points a game since the All-Star break, and is doing so by connecting on nearly half of his field goal attempts. While the assist totals leave a lot to be desired, the 19-year old may already be making a mini leap right before our eyes. If his efficiency can continue to keep up with his scoring output, the Timberwolves may very well have a future superstar on their hands in Minnesota.
(I know I know — it’s super early. But some would also argue it’s super late as I write this, so please give me a pass).
Anytime you lose by double-digits, there’s bound to be a laundry list of “bad” things to talk about. Under new head coach Chris Finch, the Timberwolves are clearly attempting to adjust both their offensive identity and their defensive strategy on the fly, which might work against a team like the Pelicans, but not against the defending NBA champions.
After jogging through the first two quarters of Tuesday night’s game, LeBron James turned it on in the second half, exploiting Minnesota’s lackluster transition defense time and time again en route to his fifth triple-double of the season. The four-time league MVP finished with 25 points (8-of-14 shooting), 12 rebounds, 12 assists, and this Space Jam-like layup:
The King can hang.— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 17, 2021
( : @SpectrumSN) pic.twitter.com/kd3bJuqdIa
While horrid defense is to be expected for the Timberwolves (we’ve seen it all year), what wasn’t as expected (at lease by me) was a virtual no-show from Minnesota’s second unit. Outside of Jaylen Nowell (who finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting), no other member of the Wolves second unit sniffed 7 points or more Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ second unit was paced by 2020 Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, who finished the night with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting. The Lakers bench would go on to outscore Minnesota’s bench by a whopping total of 68-32.
In addition to the lack of scoring, no bench player for the Wolves made much (if any) impact on the defensive end, specifically Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels, who at times looked completely outmatched by LA’s physicality. One of the Lakers’ strengths these last few seasons has literally been that — their strength — so it’s not all that surprising to see young players like Naz and Jaden struggle. Either way, for this team to continue to build on the momentum they’ve created coming out of the All-Star break, they’ll need much more productive nights from their young reserves going forward.
Last thought — if you haven’t heard of Talen Horton-Tucker by now, go look him up. The 20-year old former Iowa State Cyclone was the 46th pick back in the 2019 draft, and after spending his first season in the G League, actually made his NBA debut against Minnesota back on December 8, 2019. The kid known simply as THT can flat-out ball, and he might be a stealth weapon off the bench for LA as they attempt to defend their title later this summer.