As we all know by now, the Wolves threw some costly punches that knocked out their two best defenders for tonight’s contest. Three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert swung at Kyle Anderson on the Timberwolves bench during Sunday’s 113-108 win over the New Orleans Pelicans and earned himself a one-game suspension from the Wolves. Just before that, NBA All-Defense First Team candidate Jaden McDaniels punched a curtain he didn’t know had a concrete wall behind it and broke the third and fourth metacarpals of his right hand, the team announced Monday.
Without Gobert and McDaniels (and Naz Reid, too), Minnesota will now be tasked with finding new defenders to check Anthony Davis and LeBron James, respectively, while also dealing with talented offensive players in old friend D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves.
1) How would Lakers’ approach change in lineups with Towns at the 5 vs Anderson at the 5?
Since Mo Bamba went down and even since he returned from injury, the Lakers have played smaller with Wenyen Gabriel as the backup center with Davis fully embracing that role. Because of that, I don’t think much will change in terms of their approach as a result. While there is some intrigue in going to Bamba to punish a smaller Wolves front-court, but Bamba has only played effectively garbage time minutes so it’ll likely be a similar dose of what they’ve done in a Davis-Gabriel rotation.
2) How has Austin Reaves’ emergence as an important piece changed the hierarchy of the Lakers offense? Should the Wolves prioritize guarding D-Lo or Reaves?
Reaves emerging as a legitimate role player has more diversified the Lakers offense than anything. Wolves fans are familiar with what Malik Beasley brings to the table and while it’s valuable, it’s fairly one-dimensional. Reaves is not one-dimensional and is able to do many different things. He complements Russell so well as the pair have a net rating of 22.2 in 283 minutes together.
Reaves’ ability to draw fouls makes him a tough cover and a player who could potentially cause issues in that regard while Russell is more comfortable as a shooter and in pick-and-roll situations. It really depends on the type of defender because they’re different players that bring different things to the table.
3) What is the key weakness the Wolves should look to exploit without McDaniels and Gobert?
At times this season and even down the stretch, the Lakers have come out a bit unfocused and without a sense of urgency at times. If the Wolves come out early and deliver the first punch, the Lakers can be susceptible at times and knocked on their back foot. The Los Angeles Clippers did it in the team’s only loss in the last seven games and the Utah Jazz did it twice in those final games, making both games tighter than most expected. Playing hard and with urgency sound obvious but are ways teams have had success against the Lakers of late.
Fans can watch the game on TNT tonight at 9 PM CT. Also be sure to check out Mike O’Hagan’s preview and game thread for the must-win Play-In Game.