The Los Angeles Lakers look to finally be getting one of their trusted veterans back as Rajon Rondo is expected to return after missing the past 14 games. He will be needed as the Lakers host the Minnesota Timberwolves in an extremely important game.
The Timberwolves have taken two of three contests between the teams and with everything so tight in the Western Conference playoff race, the Lakers dropping the season series would be unideal and could come back to haunt them later this year.
Rondo’s return would give the Lakers a much-needed playmaker with LeBron James and Lonzo Ball both out injured. Players like Brandon Ingram and Lance Stephenson are capable of getting the team in offensive sets, but Rondo’s true point guard skills have been missed and he should be able to get his teammates good shots that they’ve been unable to generate regularly.
The two players who would seem to benefit most from a Rondo return would be Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac. Kuzma is averaging 25 points per game over the last five while Zubac is putting up 20.3 points over the last three. Each would be helped by Rondo’s ability to create easy shots, especially in the halfcourt.
That is extremely important in this contest as the Timberwolves are one of the best teams in the NBA at taking care of the ball so generating turnovers and easy fast break points could be tough.
Regardless of whether Rondo plays or not, a lot will also be on the shoulders of Brandon Ingram. While not a top scorer, Ingram’s all-around game has been on full display recently, averaging 16.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists over the last five games.
Additionally, Ingram will likely be matched-up often with Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins. Though Wiggins is only averaging 17 points this year, he is averaging 23.5 against the Lakers and containing him will be key as Karl-Anthony Towns has been on another level and it is asking far more to contain the big man.
Towns is averaging 25.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.3 steals during the month of January. He is back to All-Star form and it will be interesting to see how Walton uses his center rotation to try and stifle him.
Tyson Chandler provides the size and strength, JaVale McGee’s length and athleticism provide problems, and Ivica Zubac will make Towns work most on the defensive end.
Speaking of big men, the glass will be extremely important in this game. The Timberwolves are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams thanks to Towns and Taj Gibson. The Lakers will need to crash the glass as a team and keep Minnesota from gaining numerous scoring chances. Likewise, on the other end, Minnesota is not great at clearing their own defensive glass so the Lakers could take advantage on that end as well.
Most important for the Lakers will be how they start the game. The last time these two teams met the Lakers were down 15-1 before they could blink and never recovered. Of course that game the Lakers were without Kuzma as well as Rondo and LeBron James so they plan on the outcome being much different this time.
Los Angeles Lakers (25-23) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24)
7:30 P.M. PT, Jan. 24, 2019
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: Ivica Zubac, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Svi Mykhailiuk
Projected Timberwolves Starting Lineup:
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Josh Okogie
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Dario Saric, Anthony Tolliver, Jerryd Bayless, Luol Deng
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