First, let’s check the current Western Conference standings.
The parts are always moving as every win and loss has become more and more important. The season ends on April 9th.
Currently, the Lakers are in 9th place. And they are battling the team that is right above them, the Minnesota Timberwolves. So the 8th seed is at stake here. For now.
The Lakers have not beaten the Wolves this season. Early in the campaign, Rudy Gobert went for 22 points and 21 boards to help Minnesota win the first match-up. On March 3rd, they had their second game, which took place in L.A. Anthony Davis went for 38 points but he didn’t get much help as the team seemed to sleepwalk for most of the game as the Wolves outhustled them.
Round 3 is back in Minnesota. The Wolves did get Karl-Anthony Towns back (listed as probable for Friday’s game). In his first three games back, he’s averaged 20.3 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting .500 from three. His ability to stretch the floor as a big man will cause some problems but as long as Anthony Davis can mostly be a boss inside the paint defensively, they should be all right. Jarred Vanderbilt is likely going to get that assignment on KAT.
It is unfortunate for the Wolves that Naz Reid injured his wrist. He’s been having a heck of a season, averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 boards a game. He’s also already had three 20-10 games and, with the expectation that he’ll miss a lot of time, the Wolves are going to miss his production.
The Wolves have been hot as of late. Before their loss to Phoenix, they had won four in a row. No doubt that they know the magnitude of these games; all four of those wins were actually really close. They just hope everyone is ready to go for Friday; you saw that injury report a couple of paragraphs above. But if Anthony Edwards is a go, L.A. certainly has to watch out for him.
And as for those Lakers, there are three things I’m really concerned about. First is their focus. They didn’t show a sense of urgency in their second match-up and, as a result, Davis played much of the game as a one-man team. They know what’s at stake; they can’t play around with this.
Turnovers plagued them in their two games against the Bulls. It was also the deciding factor in their first game against the Timberwolves when they had 22 of those giveaways. I’m sure fans were perturbed about the seemingly lazy passes the Lakers threw in the past couple of games. They absolutely have to take care of the rock.
Ever since Austin Reaves moved into the starting line-up, the bench production hasn’t been the best. The starting line-up is probably at its most optimal with Reaves in the first five but the guys off the bench haven’t exactly been great. LeBron did come off the bench in the first Chicago game so that was a big boost but Malik Beasley was too little, too late with his scoring. In the second Bulls game, the Lakers only had 14 points off the bench (though the starters were definitely overwhelming). They did have the 20-point outburst by Lonnie Walker IV against the Thunder. And the Lakers had 25 points off the bench against Phoenix, which is way below what they average. The Lakers are 4th in the league in bench points with 40.1 per game.
The bench just has to hold the fort down as best as they could. They do have Dennis Schröder, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel, Lonnie Walker IV, and the extremely streaky Malik Beasley as reserves. It’s a capable group but they have to execute. Head coach Darvin Ham must stagger his starters and I feel they should always have either LeBron or Davis on the court at all times.
The Wolves, by virtue of already holding two wins over the Lakers, will win the tiebreaker against L.A. So the Lakers really have to treat every game like it’s a Game 7. Avoiding the play-in is still very doable but as I’ve said for the last few months, they have to take it a game at a time. And then everything will fall into place.