clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game Preview #78: Wolves vs Lakers

Old friends reunite at Target Center as D’Angelo Russell plays his first game against the Wolves as a Laker in a crucial game for postseason seeding.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Info

Injury Reports



  • Kyle Anderson — Illness
  • Anthony Edwards — Illness


  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy
  • Taurean Prince — Illness
  • Austin Rivers — Illness
  • Matt Ryan — Illness
  • Karl-Anthony Towns — Illness


  • Naz Reid - Left Scaphoid Fracture

Los Angeles


  • Anthony Davis - Left Foot Stress Injury


  • LeBron James - Left Foot Soreness


  • Mo Bamba - Left Ankle Sprain
  • Scotty Pippen Jr - Two-Way
  • Cole Swider - Two-Way

What to Watch For

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

No Naz Reid

Naz Reid was in the midst of a career defining season and broke his wrist at the worst time possible after a hard fall against the Phoenix Suns. Reid has been not only a breakout star this season but also one of the few consistently reliable pieces off the bench. With Reid on the court, the Timberwolves have had a net rating that is 3.2 points per 100 possessions higher than when he is off the court, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s proven to be a three-level scorer, dynamic ball handler, and even improved in areas on defense.

Against the Lakers, Reid would’ve been a mismatch nightmare as their only true “big” is Anthony Davis. Outside of Davis, the Lakers have Jarred Vanderbilt (who we all know well and love), LeBron James (who doesn’t want anything to do with defending physical, athletic 6-foot-10 bigs), Rui Hachimura, and Wenyen Gabriel. Reid’s ability to stretch the floor, attack off the bounce, and play physical around the rim would’ve been a big advantage.

Even though Reid is out, the Timberwolves could still exploit this matchup with their two-big lineup. Davis has been playing out of his mind, but him and Vanderbilt are going to be asked to do a lot on defense. Vanderbilt will likely be matched up on Karl-Anthony Towns and Davis on Rudy Gobert. This will allow Davis to roam a little more to maximize his weak-side rim protection and allow Vanderbilt to use his high intensity and mobility to disrupt on the perimeter. A great way to exploit this is to utilize Towns in the post more. He has a significant size advantage on Vanderbilt that presents a myriad of issues for the Lakers. If they don’t send a double, then Towns should be able to regularly get baby hook shots off over either shoulder.

If they send Davis to double, then Gobert becomes free for weak-side lobs or weak-side shooters become open if the defense rotates down to Gobert. If the Lakers collapse a perimeter player to double, then easy kickouts will generate good looks from three or lead to extra passes to generate drives against a scrambling defense. We saw how effective that was against the Sacramento Kings. Having Reid in the lineup is better than not having him, but whether the Timberwolves go with a two-big lineup or a more staggered approach, there are plenty of mismatches for them still to hunt.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Curious Defensive Matchups

How the Timberwolves choose to defend on the perimeter should be pretty straight forward. The most likely matchups will be Mike Conley on D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards on Austin Reaves, and Jaden McDaniels on LeBron James. Easy enough. What gets tricky, though, is how the Timberwolves decide to deal with Davis. Over his last five games, Davis is averaging 26.4 points on 61% shooting along with 10.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks.

Assuming Towns and Gobert start, there isn’t really a great option. In their only matchup this season, Davis scored 11 points on 5/8 shooting in just over seven minutes against Gobert. Towns hasn’t played Davis yet this season, but last season in two matchups consisting of about 11.5 minutes, Davis scored 16 points on 7/13 shooting. While Davis is clearly the focus, the impact of Vanderbilt’s cutting and offensive rebounding also needs to come into play.

Towns still struggles with his off-ball defense, so putting Gobert on Vanderbilt and allowing Gobert to roam a little more and not worry about defending in space as much may be the best bet. This could make Towns vulnerable to foul issues, but Gobert’s effectiveness as a rebounder and help rim protector is probably best utilized if he’s allowed to play more of a free safety role.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Prepare for a Foul Fest

It’s no secret that the refereeing has been brutal across the league this year. The Timberwolves have had a handful of recent games where this has unfortunately been a prominent talking point. Talking about the refs is one of the least enjoyable aspects of sports, but it would be surprising if fouls weren’t a major factor in tonight’s game.

So far this season, the Lakers have committed the fewest fouls in the league with 1,381 (the Bucks are second at 1,403), per NBA Stats. They have also drawn the second most fouls in the league with 1,646 (the Mavericks are first at 1,704). That results in a +265 differential.

Conversely, the Timberwolves are tied with the Detroit Pistons with the most fouls committed at 1,676. They rank 14th in the league in fouls drawn with 1,553. That results in a -123 differential.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers lead the league in percentage of shots at the rim at 37.8, so it makes sense that they also lead the league in free throw attempts with 2,027 (26.7 per game). The Timberwolves on the other hand rank sixth in the league in percentage of shots at the rim at 37.2, which isn’t too dissimilar to the league leading Lakers. However, the Timberwolves rank 15th in the league in free throw attempts with 1,826 (23.7 per game).

This intention of this isn’t some “league is rigged” nonsense agenda. If it was, why would the Pistons rank second and the Houston Rockets in seventh in free throws per game? The point is that you should prepare to what could be a heavily whistled game. The Timberwolves have plenty of players who foul a ton, and the Lakers have plenty of players who have historically drawn a lot of fouls. The Timberwolves have gotten a tough whistle for most of the season, much of it is self-inflicted, but tonight’s game is another that could be largely determined at the free throw line.