The Los Angeles Lakers have a chance to sweep the season series against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night as L.A. returns to Staples Center to start a three-game homestand against the team in last place in the Western Conference.
The Lakers have to feel good about themselves for starting the second-half schedule with a 2-0 record after beating two solid teams in the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors, all while dealing with injuries and players missing games because of health and safety protocols.
Tonight, the pressure for Los Angeles is mitigated as the Timberwolves have also been a unit ravaged by injuries and health and safety protocols. However, their talent level isn’t sufficient to stay afloat in a vaunted conference.
The Timberwolves come into the contest missing D’Angelo Russell (knee) and Jordan McLaughlin (COVID-19 protocols) while Jarrett Culver (toe) is doubtful.
That opens the door for L.A. to start the second half with a 3-0 record. Offensively, the Lakers have momentum with the way they performed Monday night against the Golden State Warriors. The ball kept moving and players knocked down open shots.
Maintaining that level of efficiency tonight is essential because the Timberwolves aren’t a strong defensive unit; they rank 26th in defensive rating. Defensive rating isn’t a tell-all stat, but it factors in the fact that Minnesota struggles with defensive rebounding (25th in the league), allowing points in the paint (29th in the league) and allowing opponents to shoot 47.5% on shots they contest (sixth-worst in the league).
That plays in L.A.’s favor because the Lakers are equipped with the personnel to manipulate Minnesota’s defenders. They have the players who can attack the basket — LeBron James, Dennis Schroder, Talen Horton-Tucker — while possessing shooters who can roam the arc and knock down shots in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Wesley Matthews and the players aforementioned.
Minnesota excels in blocking shots (fourth in the league), so the Lakers must proceed with caution down low, especially when the smaller guards attempt to finish over lengthy skyscrapers like Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels, who at 6’9″ can still swat shots like a center.
The Lakers need Schroder to step up tonight, however. He posted just six points in 28 minutes during the win over Golden State, but with the injuries to Minnesota’s backcourt, Schroder is skilled enough to outperform their alternatives.
Another advantage involves James. The Timberwolves lack quality wing depth and strength to match the physicality James brings to the floor on both ends. James loves attacking the basket, so Minnesota has some issues on their hands.
Defensively, the focus is stymieing Towns’ production. Towns’ per-game averages have dipped across the board, but that’s more of a reflection of the current state of the Timberwolves rather than his actual talent. Marc Gasol helped limit Towns in the last matchup, but that responsibility will move to players like Damian Jones and Montrezl Harrell. The Lakers might seek to send double teams to force Towns to move the ball.
Anthony Edwards is another player to watch for. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick has been on an offensive tear in the last seven games, never scoring less than 19 points and is coming off a 34-point performance. When he has the ball, he wants to shoot. The Lakers, however, should have the length to disrupt his attempts and force tough looks.
Even though the Lakers are undermanned, they should extract a win and defeat Minnesota in all three contests this season. Minnesota is also short-handed, but they lack the talent needed to overcome their deficiencies unless they all play to their ceilings on the same night.
Lakers (26-13) vs. Timberwolves (9-30)
7:30 p.m. PT, March 16, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews
Projected Timberwolves starting lineup:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Anthony Edwards
SF: Jake Layman
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Josh Okogie, Naz Reid, Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell, Juancho Hernangomez
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