Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
I’m keeping this one short today, so let’s get right to it. The Lakers have been playing better ball of late, but haven’t gotten many wins to show for it. Some hard fought games against the Warriors bookended a win over the Rockets, but those games were followed by a pretty disappointing loss to the Blazers.
That loss to Portland led to another loss too, as an MRI revealed a sprained shoulder for Lonzo Ball who will not play today against the T’Wolves. Losing Lonzo dampens a game I was looking forward to, a contest between a couple of young teams — though Minnesota has taken a bit of a leap this year with the addition of veterans Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
Those two, team with former #1 overall picks Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins to form a nice core that looks to be a lock for the playoffs even if they’re still not defending at a level they’re expected to considering their head coach. Thibs has not been able to get Towns nor Wiggins to play up to the level their physical tools would imply they can, which either speaks to aptitude to catch on to the scheme, desire to play hard on that end, or both.
Still, though, this team has enough pieces to compete nightly and is showing what the infusion of a top end talent like Butler can do to a team’s trajectory. This is something the Lakers are hoping to occur in the next summer or two, but that’s a discussion for another day.
As for this game, the Lakers continue to play hard if not always smart (hi, KCP). Poor shot selection and defensive errors late in games have cost them recently and if the team is going to win today, they’ll need to clean that up. Without Lonzo, a bigger burden will fall on Ingram (should he play with his various ailments), Kuzma, Randle, Clarkson, and, yes, Caldwell-Pope. Those five, mixed and matched or as a single lineup, should offer enough offensive firepower against a mediocre Wolves defense to stay connected on the scoreboard.
One key to watch will be how the Lakers manage on the backboards. The Wolves are a very good offensive rebounding team, punishing teams with more traditional frontline combinations than what most other teams consistently use. The trio of Towns, Gorgui Dieng, and Taj Gibson can all hit the glass hard and the Lakers bigs will need to be especially strong on the glass and look to box out more than they have shown a penchant for this year. Randle, Kuzma, Nance, and Bogut will have their work cut out for them here and if they don’t hold up they’ll be punished for it.
Lastly, look out for pace this game. If the Wolves are able to slow the game down and keep this game in the halfcourt, their chances of winning go up exponentially. The Lakers, even without Lonzo, need to push the tempo and try to get easy baskets before the Wolves get setup defensively. If they can ramp up the pace and ignite their transition game, they can also get the crowd behind them, which could end up being the difference for them.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT.