The Los Angeles Lakers already had a tough task ahead of them on Christmas Night, trying to get a win over the much-improved Minnesota Timberwolves. That became even tougher when news broke rookie point guard Lonzo Ball’s sprained shoulder which will keep him out a week.
Ball is the engine of this Lakers team and easily the best playmaker. His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for him as he was enjoying his best stretch of the season. Over the last five games, Ball was averaging 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range.
Without him, everyone on the Lakers will have to step up, but expect Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson especially, to look to create more as they will have the ball in their hands.
Speaking of Ingram, he and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s defense will be just as important as their offense. Of course, there’s also a chance Ingram doesn’t play as he’s dealing with quad injuries.
Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins are physical, athletic wings who can take over at times. Rookie Josh Hart will also see plenty of time matched up with both as he has quickly become a favorite thanks to his defense and hard-nosed mentality overall.
Suffice to say, the key to Minnesota’s attack is Karl-Anthony Towns. The big man can do everything on the court both offensively and defensively when he’s locked in. It will be interesting to see how Luke Walton decides to attack him.
Since Brook Lopez’s ankle injury, Walton has been going with Andrew Bogut in the starting lineup who has responded with some productive minutes. However the matchups made sense as both opponents had big physical centers.
With Towns’ ability to step out and work on the perimeter, Bogut could struggle trying to guard him. As a matter of fact, defense in general will be of the utmost importance for the Lakers.
Unlike what is normally expected from a Tom Thibodeau team, these T-Wolves are an excellent offensive team, but pretty bad defensively. The trio of Towns, Butler, and Wiggins are the main focus but point guard Jeff Teague can’t be forgotten about either.
Teague leads the Timberwolves with 7.1 assists per game and whoever Walton decides to insert into the starting lineup will have their hands full against the quick and crafty Teague.
In all likelihood it’ll be either Alex Caruso or Tyler Ennis in the lineup, but Clarkson and Hart will undoubtedly see an uptick in minutes as well.
Of course, plenty of eyes will be on Kyle Kuzma. The rookie is the Lakers’ leading scorer and has been unreal over the past few games. The Lakers are becoming more reliant on his offense as he can create for himself and others at a high rate.
The Lakers have done a good job of competing every night so far this season, but have been done in by their own mistakes. Free throws and turnovers continue to be an issue for this young team and until those are fixed, the struggles will continue.
Three Keys To Lakers Victory
3-Point Line: For as good as Minnesota is offensively, they attempt the fewest number of threes in the NBA. The Lakers are still last in three-point percentage, but have shot the ball much better the last couple of weeks. They may very well have the advantage from deep and must use it.
Keep Kuzma Going: Kuzma has been absolutely outstanding recently, averaging 25.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from deep over the last five games. Without Ball to set people up, his ability to create his own shot becomes more important and the Lakers will need his offense badly on this night.
Take Advantage of Depth: All five of Minnesota’s starters average at least 33 minutes with only Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng playing significan minutes off the bench. The Lakers have made great use of reserves all season and Clarkson and Julius Randle will have to lead that attack against the possibly weary Wolves starters.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-20) Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-13)
7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 25, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Alex Caruso
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Josh Hart
Projected Timberwolves Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Jamal Crawford, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones
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