Lakers Vs. Timberwolves Preview: Play-In Tournament Game For Seventh Seed
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to an excellent second half of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to climb up to the seventh spot in the Western Conference and will host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first Play-In Tournament game. The winner of the game will take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the NBA Playoffs while the loser will have one more chance to lock in a playoff spot.

Much of the attention coming into this game has been on the drama surrounding the Timberwolves in their final regular season game. Rudy Gobert punched teammate Kyle Anderson in the chest and was suspended for this game while defensive ace Jaden McDaniels fractured his hand punching a wall in frustration and is also out. The Lakers, meanwhile, are at full strength and will need to be in order to defeat what is still an extremely dangerous Timberwolves team with a pair of All-Stars in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Obviously things for the Lakers still revolve around Anthony Davis. The big man is the focal point of the offense and has an ideal matchup to dominate the paint. With no Gobert or Naz Reid for Minnesota, Davis should be able to control things inside and he should be in attack mode from the beginning, especially as Towns has been known to struggle with fouls at times.

Likewise, LeBron James should be able to have some success with Minnesota down their best defender as McDaniels likely would have been tasked with shadowing him. Anderson and Taurean Prince are solid veterans, but neither should be able to contain LeBron, especially if he is able to get downhill.

But as multiple players have pointed out already, for the Lakers it will be their defense that needs to be on point if they plan on having success. Edwards is one of the best and most explosive young players in the league and has already shown he can deliver on the a big playoff stage. Likewise, Towns is an extremely difficult cover for anyone and his shooting ability will force Davis outside and possibly limit his ability to protect the paint as well.

While Gobert’s absence does harm the Timberwolves in some areas, such as rebounding and rim protection, sliding Towns up to the center position spreads the floor and opens up the paint for Edwards to do serious damage. The Lakers defense will need to be connected on a string in order to keep the Minnesota stars in check.

The point guard matchup will also be one to keep a huge eye on. D’Angelo Russell has said he doesn’t have any extra motivation in facing his former team, but it would have to be at least a little bit sweet to have a huge game and secure a playoff spot against the team that traded you away. On the other end, Mike Conley is one of the steadiest and most reliable point guards in the NBA and he has torched the Lakers in the past.

Where the Lakers should have a clear advantage is with the supporting cast. Oftentimes, these games come down to a big contribution from a role player or two and Minnesota is lacking in depth thanks to injury and suspension.

Austin Reaves, Malik Beasley, Rui Hachimura, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt have all been huge for the Lakers at different points this year. A big game from two or three of that group could be the difference in the Lakers securing their spot in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Lakers (42-38) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (41-39)

7 p.m. PT, April 11, 2023 Arena Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: LeBron James
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Malik Beasley, Wenyen Gabriel

Projected Timberwolves Starting Lineup:

PG: Mike Conley
SG: Anthony Edwards
SF: Taurean Prince
PF: Kyle Anderson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Key Reserves: Jordan McLaughlin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaylen Nowell, Nathan Knight

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