The Los Angeles Lakers have forgotten how to tank the past few games, as they have won three straight games for the first time since Nov. 2-6, way back in the beginning of the season.
With their 98-94 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, the Lakers record improved to 24-55, which is one more win than the Phoenix Suns have in the tank race for the second-worst record in the league.
The players on the court are not concerned with tanking though, so they look for their first four-game winning streak of the season Sunday night when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves in their second to last home game of the season.
The Timberwolves backcourt is led by Ricky Rubio, who the Lakers are very familiar with. Rubio is known more for his passing than scoring, but when the two teams met in Minnesota on March 30, Rubio scored a career-high 33 points to go along with 10 assists.
Rubio has been playing the best basketball of his career in recent weeks, as in 19 games since the beginning of March he is averaging 17.4 points, 10.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. Everyone knows Rubio is an extremely gifted passer, but he has started to develop a jump shot, which is something he has lacked in his career.
The Timberwolves have two young backup point guards that have both underwhelmed in their careers so far in Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn. Both came out of college with a lot of hype and the potential of being starting NBA point guards, but neither has lived up to it yet.
Minnesota will have the challenge of dealing with Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, who like Rubio has been playing his best basketball in recent weeks. Russell has scored in double figures in 19 of the Lakers last 21 games. IN that span he is averaging 18.8 points and 5.0 assists.
The Lakers young backcourt of Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Tyler Ennis and David Nwaba have all been playing extremely hard for head coach Luke Walton, which has helped lead to the three-game win streak.
The Lakers will have their hands full defensively with Minnesota’s frontcourt, which features two of the NBA’s brightest young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Towns went from being the unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year last season to being a superstar at just 21-years-old. Towns has played every game this season and is averaging 24.9 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. Towns has scored in double figures every game this season except one, when he scored nine points against the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 23.
Not to be out-done by his teammate, Wiggins has scored in double figures in 44 straight games, and has only not been in double figures three times all season. The 22-year-old is averaging a career-high 23.5 points per game this season to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. The young wing is an extremely gifted scorer, but Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has spoke out in recent weeks saying that he wants his young score to develop into more of a playmaker as well.
Julius Randle will likely have the challenge of guarding Towns while Brandon Ingram will be matched up with Wiggins. Randle was everywhere in Friday nights win, as he scored a very efficient 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Ingram has developed an aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor in recent weeks, something he didn’t display in the first half of his rookie season. He has been playing on a minutes restriction the last few games due to a knee injury, but he has really shown Laker fans a glimpse of what is to come in the future for him which has been exciting to watch.
Three Keys To Victory:
Contain Towns: Towns is by far the best player on the court Sunday night, and he has single-handedly won some games for Minnesota this season by scoring 30-40 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. The Lakers will have trouble winning Sunday night if he is putting up those type of numbers.
Play With Energy: The Lakers three-game win streak can be attributed to a lot of things, but the main reason is they are just playing harder. With two young teams like the Lakers and Timberwolves, whoever plays with the most energy for the entire 48 minutes is likely to come out on top.
Feed Ingram Offensively: The rookie is shooting a very efficient 52.2 percent from the field in his last 14 games. He has proven that he can get to the basket, score from midrange or even extend it behind the three-point line. He along with Russell need to be the Lakers first options on offense.
Los Angeles Lakers (24-55) Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (31-48)
6:30 P.M. PST, April 9, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Timberwolves Starting Lineup:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Brandon Rush
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Gorgui Dieng
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Kris Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad, Tyus Jones, Omri Casspi, Cole Aldrich
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: D’Angelo Russell
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: David Nwaba, Tyler Ennis, Corey Brewer, Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson