I’m going to keep this brief because, as it does sometimes, life has me a time crunch. The Lakers blasted the Warriors on Monday night, giving them their 2nd straight blowout win over the Dubs and has them generating some momentum out of the All-Star break after beating the Pacers last Friday. Tonight, the Timberwolves come to town and the Lakers will try to keep the train moving on the 2nd night of a back to back.
This game, more than anything else, will be about focus and energy. These things go hand in hand — the Lakers will need to be mentally sharp in order to keep their effort level where it needs to be. If they can do it, particularly defensively, I think they’ll be okay tonight. If they don’t, the Wolves have just enough offensive punch to make things tricky.
Obviously, whenever talking about the Timberwolves, Karl Anthony-Towns is the key player to consider. Despite a trying year from a physical and mental perspective, Towns remains one of the elite offensive players in the game. He will stretch you out with his shooting range, but is also a more than capable post player who can punish smaller players on the block. The Lakers will almost surely start Damian Jones on him, but tonight could end up being a game where Trez’s competitiveness and ability to play higher at the point of attack can be leveraged.
If slowing KAT is the priority, not far behind him in the pecking order is rookie Anthony Edwards. After starting the season slowly, Edwards has come on of late, averaging 25+ points in his last 5 games and flashing the 3-level scoring ability that had him go as the #1 overall pick. Edwards is a power wing, but a really fluid athlete who, once he gets downhill can and will put you on a poster. I would not imagine Bron starts out on him, but if it comes down to a crucial defensive possession, don’t be surprised if that’s the matchup.
Otherwise, it will be up to KCP, Kuz, and maybe even THT to stay in front of Edwards and try to keep him out of the paint. Edwards is proving to be a willing 3-point shooter, but even with his recent scoring explosions and a hot night here or there, letting him fire away from deep is clearly the preferred defensive approach. If he gets it going, you can adjust, but if he makes 5 or 6 from distance you just tip your cap and move on.
On the other side of the ball, I’m less concerned about individual matchups as I am about how tired the Lakers legs could be and whether they’ll commit to playing at the tempo they should and whether they end up settling for too many jumpers. Bron and Dennis need to lead the way here, but THT and Kuz will also be imporant, particularly in the halfcourt. Getting downhill is important, particularly vs. a Wolves team that will not protect the rim with a lot of force. In transition, KCP’s willingness to sprint out will be another key to watch for. If he’s racing the floor and hunting early clock layups and/or filling corner with pace in early offense, he can open up the driving lanes that Bron and Dennis can eat up vs. a scrambled defense.
The other key offensively will be, as it always is, the team’s 3-point shooting. Against the Warriors the Lakers volume wasn’t high, but their accuracy was. KCP found his groove, Keef continued to knock down his open looks, and Kuz’s season long accuracy remained good. Those three will be super important again tonight and if one just of Bron/Dennis can join them (to say nothing of both), the Lakers life on offense will be much easier. I mostly just want them all to shoot with confidence and see where that gets them. The worst thing for this team’s shooting is when they turn down a decent look only to drive and kick into nothingness and a late clock reset. That rarely ends well.
The Wolves are a terrible team record wise and remain shorthanded due to both Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell being out. That said, they’ve won 2 of 3 since coming off the break and new coach Chris Finch looks to have this team playing better in the last week. The Lakers will need to take this game more seriously than the team’s respective records would imply if they want to move their winning streak to 3 games.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.