Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Timberwolves: D’Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl Anthony-Towns
Lakers: LeBron James (out), Talen Horton-Tucker (out), Trevor Ariza (out), Kendrick Nunn (out), Austin Reaves (out), Rajon Rondo (questionable)
The Lakers have two straight games, neither of which I expected them to win. The last victory against the Heat was one of the team’s better games of the season — the team defended better, they found a way to rally late, hold-on to force an overtime, and then win. This is progress! That said, you were to ask me if their recent uptick in play has me expecting the Lakers to win tonight’s game against the Timberwolves, my answer is no.
That may seem too pessimistic to you, and I’d understand if that’s the case. But scroll up a bit and look at the respective injury reports for these teams. The Lakers remain down a bunch of guys who help them, including LeBron. The Wovles are down…no one. And while you can look at the respective records of these teams as a way of justifying some optimism tonight, I’m not sure I buy that either.
In fact, I’m very interested in seeing whether the Lakers bring the requisite energy vs. a team that, from a record standpoint, they probably believe they’re better than. It’s one thing to see the upstart Hornets come into town and give some effort — especially coming off that embarrassing loss vs. Portland. The same holds true when you see the Heat come to town, with their top ranked defense, star power, and top record and play hard. It’s another to see the Wolves come into town and get up in the same way — particularly after playing two straight overtime games.
This isn’t to say the Lakers won’t play hard. Russell Westbrook always seems to bring a good energy and with Pat Bev on the other team, there’s always going to be a little bit of that extra sauce on the side from Russ. But, this team is down a lot of guys and they’re playing a team that’s not won a lot of games, and they have every right to be tired. So, just be on the lookout for heavy legs and some plays that don’t get made because fatigue has set in.
Regarding matchups, I’m very interested in seeing Anthony Davis and Towns matchup. These are always fun battles and it always seems like AD gets up a little bit more to play another University of Kentucky big man. My hope is that AD begins defensively on KAT, and that DJ starts out on McDaniels. The latter isn’t a major offensive threat and, with Towns’ shooting ability, AD’s ranginess and ability to play out on the floor will be needed there. So, watch closely to see if AD tries to set the tone early on both ends of the ball to win that matchup.
I’m also interested in seeing Anthony Edwards and who from the Lakers is tasked with defending him. My initial guess is Bazemore gets the assignment, but do not be surprised if Vogel deploys Bradley on him and uses Baze on Russell. Bradley’s physicality could prove helpful vs. Edwards while Baze’s length and general defensive approach feels like a better fit for a Russell matchup. Either way, both matchups are difficult, especially the ascending Edwards who just went for 40+ against the Warriors and is proving to be quite electric.
In the end, again, tonight could really end up being tough sledding and a disappointing night after the Lakers recent wins. The Wolves record doesn’t show it, but they have some good talent and are capable of having one of those nights where they get hot and simply outscore you. My hope, then, is simply for the Lakers to keep competing hard, to show up on defense, and see if the crowd can carry them for long enough stretches where they’re able to hold on. THAT would be great, even if I’m not really expecting it (and, maybe, exactly because I’m not).
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.