- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40; 8th) at Los Angeles Lakers (43-39; 7th)
- When: 9:00 PM CT
- Watch: TNT
- Radio: 830 AM - WCCO
- Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy
- Karl-Anthony Towns — Right Calf Strain
- Naz Reid — Left Scaphoid Fracture
- Matt Ryan — Two-Way Contract
- Luka Garza — Two-Way Contract
- Rudy Gobert — Suspension
- Jaden McDaniels — Right Hand Fracture
- D’Angelo Russell — Foot
- LeBron James — Foot
- Anthony Davis — Foot
What to Watch For
Ant and KAT’s Time to Shine
As the saying goes, “big time players make big time plays in big time games.” That is what we’re dealing with here, as the Minnesota Timberwolves stroll into Crypto.com Arena to play the Los Angeles Lakers, with the winners securing a first round playoff matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. With Jaden McDaniels (hand) and Rudy Gobert (suspension) both out, the Wolves will need their two best players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, to be at their absolute best.
Obviously, being down your best wing defender and best rim protector is not ideal when you are tasked with defending LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Wolves are naturally going to need to score more points to win this game than they thought they’d need to before Sunday’s events, which is why they’re going to need both Ant and KAT to bring their A-game.
For Ant, it’s going to be about being aggressive, but under control. He can’t wait until the second half to make an impact offensively, it has to be from the jump. He also has to understand that the Lakers are likely going to load up on his drives, and make the right pass where it presents itself. If Edwards drives straight into Anthony Davis all night, it’s likely not going to yield positive results. Picking his spots is going to be vital, but given what we saw from Edwards in his first postseason action, I’m expecting nothing less than the best from A1.
With Towns, it’s about taking advantage of whichever mismatch the Lakers give him. If we assume Jarred Vanderbilt will spend much of his time on Edwards, as he has for the bulk of the regular season meetings, that means Towns will likely see a lot of Davis or James. If he has AD on him, it will be vital to let if fly early and often from three. It’s easier to attack Davis on the perimeter than at the rim, and pulling AD away from the rim will open driving lanes for Edwards to attack. If/when it’s James he sees, that’s time for Towns to get into the post, work deliberately, and get to his hook shot over his left shoulder. KAT is still a matchup nightmare for pretty much every team in the league when he’s able to play center, and that should not change on Tuesday evening.
Controlling Anthony Davis and the Backboards
It’s really hard to describe how good AD has been at the rim this year. This was going to be a tall task even with the Wolves two best rim protectors. Now without both Gobert and McDaniels, expect to see head coach Chris Finch get a bit more creative. I would be shocked if Towns’ primary assignment was Davis, even though they will be the two centers on the floor. Rather, I’d expect the Wolves to start Kyle Anderson on AD, place Towns on Vando, and more or less dare Jarred Vanderbilt to kill them with duck-ins and dump-offs.
In general, that should be an effective strategy because Vando is not particularly adept at catching those dump-offs, and one of AD’s major weaknesses is that he’s not a great passer. If Anderson can play Davis relatively tough with the double coming from KAT, the Wolves should be able to force the Lakers into some difficult field goal attempts late in the shot-clock.
While this should be an effective strategy on the initial shot, it is going to make it tough rebounding-wise. If there is one place I am worried about Vanderbilt swinging this game, it’s with second-chance opportunities. Without Towns near him on the initial shot, it’s unlikely Vando gets boxed out very often, and we know all too well what he can do on the offensive glass. Ultimately, that’s a trade-off and a gamble you have to make given the other options, but it’s also going to raise the importance of Edwards and Taurean Prince crashing down to help rebound. Ant seems to have a way of understanding when the team needs his rebounding, so hopefully that continues Tuesday night.
Can the Wolves Make Enough Threes?
While the overarching concern with this matchup — without McDaniels and Gobert — are valid, the fact of that matter is this is a one game deal. Over the course of a series, the Wolves would no doubt be punished repeatedly for the lack of size and force they can offer at the rim, but in a single game, teams are left vulnerable to shooting variance. It is part of what makes the NCAA Tournament so fun. One game, do-or-die type events by nature encourage upsets.
To win, the Wolves will almost surely need a role player or two to get hot from three. It would be shocking if they out-scored LeBron and AD in the paint (or at the free-throw line), so they’ll need to make those points up beyond the arc. It could be Taurean Prince, it could be Nickeil Alexander-Walker, or it could even be Kyle Anderson. Either way, the Wolves are going to need at least one of those guys to make a few threes to help the Wolves off-set the math problem they’re likely to run into on paints in the point.
Now, the easiest solution to this would just be for Ant and KAT to make a ton of threes. We know both are fully capable, and Ant in particular is willing to put them up. The Wolves will need both to take and make numerous threes, but they really need Towns to be ready and wiling to fire. Anything less than 8-10 three-point attempts is not going to be enough, in my opinion.
There’s not a soul picking the Wolves to win this game. Every analyst from the major networks to your buddy in his mom’s basement all think it’s over for the Wolves. That means these guys should be able to take an “us against the world” approach and play without any weight of expectations. Just go out, play hard, and let the chips fall where they may. Play loose, play free, and give yourselves a shot in the fourth quarter. That’s all we can ask for.
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Timberwolves at Lakers (-7.5, -320); O/U 231.5
The oddsmakers see the Lakers as substantial favorites, and that’s understandable. The Wolves are severely short-handed, and the Lakers are playing great basketball right now. It’s tough to see how the Wolves are able to win this game, which is why the Lakers implied probability of victory is roughly 76%. As much as I’d like to believe that Towns and Edwards explode in a manner that gets the Wolves into the playoffs, I think it’s much more likely that they take their lumps in this one and then come back Friday with a better opportunity to earn a playoff berth.
The pick: Lakers -7.5
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