Lakers finish current home stand against Timberwolves

The Lakers are 0-2 against the Timberwolves this season.

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers are coming off a hell of a victory. We’re all probably still wondering how it happened but D’Angelo Russell’s late charge and Spencer Dinwiddie’s block gave the Lakers a win over the Milwaukee Bucks last Friday.

As I’ve said before, it doesn’t get any easier. Their 6th and final home game in this current stay in Los Angeles has them going against the Minnesota Timberwolves. At 44-20, they are grappling with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending champion Denver Nuggets for the #1 seed as well as the Northwest Division title (which doesn’t seem as cool in the year 2024).

Also, the Timberwolves hold two wins in two games over these Lakers. On December 21st, the Lakers lost to the Timberwolves, 118-111. And then 9 days later (on LeBron James’s birthday!), they lost a close one to the Wolves which had a controversial ending, 108-106.

So what’s up with the Wolves and why are they good all of a sudden? Defense, defense, defense. #1 in the league in defensive rating (points allowed per possession). They allow the lowest field goal percentage. They allow the lowest points per game.

Everyone scoffed at the Rudy Gobert trade two summers ago. It didn’t help that the Wolves ended up being a play-in team (they would lose to these Lakers in the first play-in game but defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the win-or-go-home phase) and, eventually, an 8th seed (they would end up being pummeled by the eventual champs, the Denver Nuggets, in the first round). But now it’s paying off as Gobert (listed as questionable for Sunday) is the centerpiece of this Wolves defense and they are now second place in the Western Conference.

It’s just not the trenches where the Wolves defense excels. Their perimeter defense is also quite good with the likes of Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Jaden McDaniels having eyes up top. The Wolves allow the third lowest three-point field goal percentage so it’s up to the Lakers to create space and find holes on that defense.

The Wolves aren’t the greatest offensively but they do have that dynamic dude in Anthony Edwards. The first pick overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, Edwards has improved his scoring in each of his four seasons with the Wolves. He’s at 26.3 points per game this season to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Last Thursday night, Edwards also had one of the best game-winning blocks you’ll ever see.

I didn’t mention Karl-Anthony Towns for a reason. Unfortunately, he tore his meniscus and he won’t be seen until probably the start of the postseason. It’s really too bad; that scoring (22.1 points per), that three-point shooting (.423), and that rebounding (8.4 boards) aren’t easy to replace.

Naz Reid, who is a 6th Man of the Year candidate, did his darnedest last Friday, though. He scored a career-high 34 points in an overtime loss against the Cavaliers. Lakers do have a penchant of letting an unheralded name go off for a career-high or something close to it so they’d better watch for somebody like Naz Reid.

So yeah, the Lakers have to find a way to break through that Wolves defense. They are certainly capable of making this into a knockdown 90s-type of brawl. But they’re going to have to get some baskets.

D’Angelo Russell went off for 44 points against Milwaukee. This red hot version of D’Lo is certainly needed; against the Wolves, he’s only averaging 11.0 points in those two games (he also left early on that second match-up). So we’ll see if he can shake off his struggles against his former team.

As for Anthony Davis, it didn’t seem to matter what the Wolves threw at him. He’s averaging 32 points and 12.5 rebounds against Minnesota this season. If he can continue to feast, the Lakers should be okay.

But that second match-up against the Wolves was a struggle for the supporting cast. It would be prudent for the Lakers to get everyone involved; no one else but Davis and LeBron scored in double figures in that Dec. 30 game. What an awesome birthday present that was for King James.

Yet another huge game for the Lakers. They can close the home stand at a 4-2 clip and have a chance to go 6 games above .500 for the first time this season. More importantly, they would have back-to-back wins against Milwaukee and Minnesota and those big wins could go a long way for this team.

Let’s see if the purple and gold can score their first win against these pack of wolves.