- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (32-32) at Los Angeles Lakers (30-33)
- When: 9:30 PM CT
- Local TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
- Radio: 830 AM WCCO
- Line: Wolves -1 | Total 228 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
big month ahead. let’s get it. pic.twitter.com/jBebJY1lpG— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 3, 2023
- Jaylen Nowell (left knee tendinopathy)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G-League assignment)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- Anthony Davis (foot)
- Dennis Schroder (ankle)
- LeBron James (foot)
- D’Angelo Russell (ankle)
What to Watch For
As crucial as a game can be, the No. 8 seeded Minnesota Timberwolves will be squaring off against the No. 11 seeded Los Angeles Lakers on the road in a Western Conference showdown.
While Minnesota are three seeds higher than Los Angeles in the standings, only 1.5 games separate the two teams. A win for the Lakers would move them to within only 0.5 games of usurping the Wolves and re-entering play-in contention with only but so many games remaining in the season.
As seen above, the month of March pitts Anthony Edwards and company against a host of formidable opponents. All, save the Lakers and the Toronto Raptors, are in playoff or play-in standing in their respective conferences. Even with the impending return of Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota will have their hands full in weathering a storm that could have seeds 5-12 looking a lot different come April. It all starts with securing a victory at the Crypto.com arena tonight, against a LeBron James-less Lakers squad that is 15-14 at home on the year.
Neutralizing L.A’s Size
The Lakers are one of the biggest teams in the league. Even without the services of James — who will be sidelined for at least three weeks with a foot injury — L.A still has an abundance of players 6-foot-10 and above that will look to dominate the paint.
The first way to neutralize their size will be to box out with authority. Regardless of the numbers, the eye test testifies to Jarred Vanderbilt being one of the most exceptional offensive rebounders in the NBA. His second jump, relentlessness and hustle prime him for second-chance opportunities. No one should know this better than Timberwolves fans. The numbers back him up as well, as he is No. 21 in the league with 2.4 OREB per game.
The second way to quell L.A’s towering presence will be to shut down post opportunities. The Lakers love to play slow in the half court, especially when Davis is in the rotation. Their new look team may be trying to break free from this mold, but in the James-Davis era, Los Angeles has been notorious for playing at their own pace.
Now if Davis suits up tonight, it may be wise for Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch to utilize a coordinated help defense, where Davis’ primary defender fronts him on the mid-block where he likes to receive the catch the most. This will entice the Lakers to press on in feeding Davis — their best player — the ball by hook or by crook. Placing McDaniels in front of Davis, with Gobert waiting in the wings, will open the door for continual traps, forcing Davis to cough the rock up.
Keeping the weak side defenders ready to further collapse in the paint would work ideally in the stead of playing the passing lanes to the corners and the wings beyond the 3. The 34 percent shooting Lakers from beyond the arc (No. 25 league wide), without Russell and James — two of their best outside shooters — can be gambled with the shoot their way out of the game.
Know Your Opponent
The Wolves will be playing against two former teammates — Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley. Both players are instrumental in the reconfiguration of the Lakers’ modus operandi. The objective is simple: harken unto all of the intel received while both were in Minnesota, and play to all of their weaknesses in uncompromising fashion.
Beasley is among the best 3-point shooters in basketball, but gets very trigger happy when he sees one fall through the net. The Wolves can’t just let him shoot in hopes of a cold spell, but enticing Beasley to go hero-ball mode may use reserve psychology to his downfall.
Vanderbilt is not a shooter. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Wolves to give him all the time he needs to do his taxes when anywhere beyond 15 feet out. When Minnesota played the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 25, the Wolves were unabashed in letting Herbert Jones have all the time in the world to do his taxes so to speak, from outside. It worked, as Jones went 2-9 from the floor and 0-5 from distance, and the cold shooting trickled down to his teammates, leading to a 111-102 victory for Edwards and co.
Implementing this same strategy on Vanderbilt has the potential to have similar effect.
Get the Ball Moving
On the offensive side, Minnesota must play with pace and grace. Mike Conley Jr. showed how effective he could be as the team’s point guard, most notably in their win over the Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago.
The Lakers have great defenders at all positions, so keeping them on their toes and scrambling inside and out will be the best way to exploit any chinks in the armor.
Anthony Davis is one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the history of the NBA. Very few forward-centers have had the foot speed to keep up with guards off the switch, the shot blocking ability to deny lobs at the rim, and the discipline to show and recover off the roll. He will be the biggest detractor on both sides for all 48 minutes of play.
Also, featuring other Lakers’ bigs in the pick-and-roll such as Rui Hachimura and Mo Bamba will allow for Edwards, Conley and the rest of the Wolves at the top of the key to get the step, draw the interior defender and ideally, find shooters in the corner.