A month long stretch of really good play which saw the Lakers win 12 of 16 games is over with a thud. The team has lost back to back games, to the Mavs and Pelicans. Both games were defensive nightmares which saw the team give up 269 total points. Not good, Bob.
Blame whatever you want for this fit of stinky defense because there’s really no shortage of culprits. The Lakers have been bad at the point of attack, bad at the rim, bad at helping, bad at recovering. The players who remain on the roster after the trade deadline have defensive ability, but are not showing it. Maybe they’re ready for the all-star break. I think it’s doubtful they actually forgot how to play defense.
Anyway, the all-star break is literally a day away so if that’s what the team is waiting for they’re going to get their wish. The only problem is they have to go through the Timberwolves first and that’s going to be difficult.
The Wolves boast the 3rd best offensive rating in the league this season, powered by the inside/outside attack of all-stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Jimmy Butler (both players do both, by the way). Add in Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague and the Wolves are not short on weapons. The Lakers will have their hands full trying to slow these guys down and if recent games are any indication, they’re not likely to succeed.
Where the team can, potentially, make some headway is by attacking a Wolves defense that is nearly as sluggish as their offense is potent. Minnesota ranks 26th in defensive rating, a level far below what you’d expect from a Tom Thibodeau coached team that possesses athletes like Butler, Wiggins, and Towns. But Wiggins and Towns have not yet tapped into their potential on that end and with Teague at the point of attack this is a team that can give up points in bunches.
The issue for the Lakers, then, is how to take advantage? LA is at their best attacking in transition either off missed shots or forced turnovers. In other words, they rely on their defense to fuel the best parts of their offense. Yes, the Lakers can attack early off made baskets and, in general, generating tempo and pace even in the half-court can be accomplished by moving the ball and playing with a certain amount of urgency.
That said, if the Lakers are going to compromise the Wolves defense, at least some of that will be charged by how many stops they can generate. The Lakers will still need to hit shots in the half court, execute their drive and kick game well, and get some of their more potent offensive players into a rhythm (hi, Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Kuzma).
But the Lakers chances of winning this game should it become a shootout are not very good. Get stops and this turns more in their favor. Bring the defensive intensity they had in some of the signature wins during their streak of good play and they might just have a happy plane ride home into their all-star weekend vacation.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and TNT.