The Minnesota Timberwolves avenged a recent overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, emerging with an 119-104 victory over the purple and gold Thursday night.
The Timberwolves are an enigma, as they are loaded with young talent and were expected to seriously challenge for a playoff spot this season. Instead, they are 12th in the Western Conference with a record of 30-44.
On Thursday, their talent was just too much for the Lakers, who played with moderate energy but fell behind by double digits in the second half and couldn’t recover. The Lakers had seven players finish in double figures although no one scored more than 18 points. Brandon Ingram missed his third consecutive game with tendonitis in his knee, and he was joined on the sidelines by Ivica Zubac who suffered a high ankle sprain two minutes into the game.
For the Lakers, their shooting was more streaky than good, and they played no defense at all. The Timberwolves scored 67 first half points and 119 for the game. Here are three takeaways from the contest.
1. Lakers Had No Answer for Towns, Wiggins, and Rubio
While the Lakers have a core of young players with potential, in 21-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns and 22-year-old Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota has two budding superstars. They suffered a bad break when another rising star, Zach LaVine, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Towns and Wiggins always play well against the Lakers, and on this night they scored 32 and 27 points, respectively. It seemed as though they could score at will against the Lakers porous defense.
The real story of the game, however, was Ricky Rubio. He is known as an excellent playmaker but not a great shooter. In this contest, he scored a career-high 33 points, breaking his former career high of 28 points, also achieved against the Lakers. He also had 10 assists.
Incidentally, Wiggins scored his career high against the Lakers earlier in the season, so the Timberwolves love playing the Lakers.
Rubio was the subject of trade rumors before and during the season, but he has excelled as a playmaker while rookie Kris Dunn, who was expected to replace him, has underachieved. With respected head coach Tom Thibodeau on the bench and Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and a decent supporting cast on the court, it is hard to understand how the Timberwolves did not have a better record this year.
2. Russell, Randle, and Clarkson Were Just Ok in this Game
The Lakers cannot hope to win without big contributions from D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson, and on this night it did not happen as no one really stepped up. Russell scored 14 points but shot only 4-for-14 from the floor and 2-for-8 from three-point range. He did have six assists, but he also finished with five turnovers and five fouls, so overall he had an undistinguished night.
Randle played a little better than he has in recent contests, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-12 from the field and 13 rebounds. But he disappeared for parts of the game and continued to struggle on defense.
His final stats were not bad, but Randle did not impact the game in a meaningful way.
Clarkson played the best of the three, leading the team in scoring with 18 points on just under 50 percent shooting from the field. Most impressive, however, is that he finished with seven assists including some nifty passes to Tarik Black around the rim. Clarkson is making some impressive assists in recent games. On the downside, he finished with four turnovers.
3. Lakers Continue to Get Good Contributions Off the Bench
Larry Nance, Jr. and David Nwaba had quieter nights than usual, but three of their colleagues in the second unit, Tarik Black, Tyler Ennis, and Thomas Robinson, had strong performances. Robinson rarely plays, but when he does, he always seems to deliver, finishing with 12 points in 14 minutes in this contest. Corey Brewer, typically a reserve but filling in as a starter due to Brandon Ingram’s injury, had 11 points in 18 minutes and played with his normal high energy.
Black entered the game after starter Ivica Zubac went out with an ankle injury shortly after the game started. He played 23 minutes and finished with 15 pounds on 7-for-8 shooting from the field. He also grabbed nine rebounds and had two blocks. Black scored on several dominant moves at the rim, and he played with his usual high energy. Given that he was playing so well, it is curious that he did not play in the fourth quarter.
Ennis continues to look more and more comfortable at the point guard position with each game. Continuing his string of strong offensive performances, he scored 12 points in 19 minutes of playing time, hitting 4-of-8 shots from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range. He also had three assists.
The Lakers reserves have seven more games to convince the front office to bring them back next season, which is why they always play hard even when their teammates do not.