With just four games remaining in the season, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to put an end to their five-game losing streak and conclude the year on a positive note, starting with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have dropped their last eight games. Now that the Lakers are locked in to the fourth spot heading into the NBA Draft Lottery — unless they miraculously tie or overtake the Philadelphia 76ers for third — the draft pick situation should no longer cloud the team’s efforts. This will be the fourth and final meeting between the two teams, as Los Angeles earned wins in both of the contests in Minnesota, while losing the first home affair.
Frontcourt: Headlining this young Timberwolves team is number one overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and likely soon-to-be-named Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, who is coming off a 29-point outing on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. Wiggins’ growth has been apparent as the season has progressed, now averaging 25.5 points per game so far in April. The 19-year-old is on his way to becoming a superb two-way star in the NBA.
Alongside Wiggins at the other forward spot is fellow rookie Adreian Payne. To go with his 6’10, 245 pound frame, is outstanding athletic ability for a big man. Payne also has solid touch with his midrange jumper, allowing him to draw his man away from the basket. Since he was traded to Minnesota before the February deadline by the Atlanta Hawks, Payne has averaged 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game.
With injuries sidelining Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, second-year man Justin Hamilton has taken over the starting center position. Like Payne, Hamilton has adequate shooting touch for someone his size to go along with an overall excellent motor. Whichever Laker is guarding him will need to match his energy and effort on each possession, or he’ll be a problem, especially on the glass.
Backcourt: Starting in place of the injured Ricky Rubio is rookie and UCLA product, Zach LaVine, who everyone remembers for the remarkable performance he put forth in this year’s slam dunk contest. Like most young players, LaVine has struggled with his efficiency, but is still capable of creating for himself or his teammates. He can provide quite the spark offensively, either with his high-flying antics or scoring ability, as evidenced by his 28-point outburst in his first game against the Lakers.
Kevin Martin is by far the most experienced member of the Timberwolves’ starting lineup, wrapping up his eleventh season while each of the other four have played less than two full seasons in the NBA. Scoring is Martin’s specialty, as he leads Minnesota with 20.3 points per game. His jump shot is a bit unorthodox, to say the least, but it’s been effective from beyond the three-point line, as he’s connected at a 38.8 percent clip this season.
Keys to Victory:
Team Defense: The last time these two teams met in Los Angeles, defense was clearly optional for both sides, and each merely chose not to play any, resulting in a 120-119 final score. Granted, it was back on November 28 and the rosters are noticeably different now, but the Lakers can’t expect to notch their third victory against the Timberwolves with a similar defensive effort.
Pick and Roll Action: Jordan Clarkson has seemingly improved just about every game since he entered the starting lineup. Perhaps where the most significant progress has been made is in his playmaking ability. His reads are becoming quicker and more accurate, especially when utilized in pick and roll situations. Running him through a heavy dose of screen and roll action will make it easier for him to break down the defense and create higher quality looks for the offense.
Take Care of the Ball: Just like any game, minimizing the amount of turnovers you have is crucial. In this game, the Lakers are matched up against a young, athletic Minnesota team. Turning the ball over could lead to transition opportunities for a Wolves team that is able to get out and fill lanes in a hurry if given the chance. Preventing this would force them to execute in half court sets, where they’ve struggled to produce points often times this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves (16-62) at Los Angeles Lakers (20-58)
7:30 PM PST, April 10, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Timberwolves Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Zach LaVine
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Adreian Payne
C: Justin Hamilton
Key Reserves: PG: Lorenzo Brown, SF: Chase Budinger, PF: Robbie Hummel
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Jabari Brown
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Tarik Black
Byron Scott On Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis, Jordan Clarkson