In many ways, the Los Angeles Lakers followed a strong formula against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Without LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell, L.A. ramped up the defensive pressure and forced the Timberwolves to 27 points or less in three of the four quarters.
The Lakers also played through their remaining healthy star in Anthony Davis. Davis scored 38 points on 12-for-22 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free throw line, putting on an offensive clinic while largely matched up against perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender Rudy Gobert.
But the Lakers outside of Davis struggled mightily to find offensive rhythm, with only Lonnie Walker IV and Malik Beasley reaching double figures. This led to two quarters of 21 points each and a 102 total score for the game in a loss.
After the game, Davis spoke about what went right and wrong for the Lakers in what could have been seen as a must-win outing. “I feel like we played hard. … We went out and competed. Trying to make the right plays. Like I said, there were stretches in the third quarter, even in the end of the second going into the half,” Davis said. “I think we had 21 points in the second and in the third where we just didn’t score enough. We did a pretty good job defensively besides the first quarter when they had 33. Other than that, I think we held them under 26 each quarter or something like that.
“At this point, we got to be locked in for a full 48. We can’t have those miscues, which essentially cost us the game tonight.”
The Lakers All-Star big man went further in depth on the advantages Minnesota might have had with James’ absence, focusing specifically on the impact of Anthony Edwards and Jalen McDaniels. “A little bit. … When guys are pressuring like that, you just got to get off of it and then maybe do some more like give-and-go action. Kind of release that pressure with a screen in the backcourt. It’s our job as bigs to kind of free up our guards.
“Unfortunately, we got called with some offensive fouls today trying to do so. … We got to get our guys a little more freedom to create and play make by setting screens.”
Davis also responded to a comment from Darvin Ham about the Lakers’ sometimes seeming as though they’re stuck in mud. “I don’t know. Like I said, I feel like we’re playing pretty good basketball. Shot some bad shots. Some turnovers. Some miscues, but it just sucks that we’re in an uphill battle and every possession counts. But I think it was our third quarter when they got a little bit more physical with us to come out at halftime.
“It took us half a quarter to kind of adjust and it kind of separated the game. That was the tale of the game right there. The first six minutes of the third quarter and they ended up getting a 10-point lead. We cut it, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
The Lakers now have to figure out a way to re-focus and continue to put in effort even after a disappointing loss. They have a tall task coming up in the Golden State Warriors, potentially with a healthy Stephen Curry returning to the lineup.
L.A. also still sits on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture. They must leapfrog one of the New Orleans Pelicans, Utah Jazz, L.A. Clippers or Timberwolves just to have a chance at making the postseason.
Russell beginning live action ramp-up
The Lakers have clearly missed the ball handling, scoring and creation abilities of Russell since he suffered an ankle sprain against the Dallas Mavericks last weekend. However, there are signs that he is nearing a return, as he began working with the “stay ready” group recently.
This brings him one step closer to being able to play full five-on-five, and the hope is that he can return within the next couple of games to give the Lakers some breathing room without James available.
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