The Los Angeles Lakers lost a tough game Tuesday night to the Washington Wizards, as they had their most efficient quarter in franchise history in the third quarter, making 15 straight shots to build up a lead as high as 16 points.
The Wizards methodically worked their way back though, as poor Laker play in the fourth quarter led to a 119-108 loss.
Los Angeles looks to move past that loss though as they travel to take on the young Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday night. The Timberwolves can’t be too happy going into this matchup, as they similarly blew a double digit lead to the Lakers at Staples Center last week and wound up losing in overtime.
Tuesday night the Lakers were without rookie forward Brandon Ingram for the second straight game, as he continues to deal with patellar tendonitis. He will once again be out on Thursday, so Corey Brewer gets another start in his place.
The Timberwolves young backcourt is led by Ricky Rubio. The 26-year-old has been very consistent in his NBA career, averaging around 10 points and 9 assists. He is a very gifted passer and looks to get his teammates involved. Part of that is due to his inability to shoot from the outside, although he has improved his shot a bit this season and is shooting a career-high 40.7 percent from the field.
Veteran Brandon Rush starts at shooting guard for the Timberwolves, but doesn’t play much as rookie point guard Kris Dunn gets most of the other guard minutes off the bench. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Providence has been a bit of a disappointment this season, averaging just 3.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Right now in the NBA he is really only getting minutes for defensive purposes, as he has the ability to keep up with opposing teams quick guards.
That will be put to the test Thursday night as the Lakers young backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson has really hit its stride in recent weeks. Since being inserted into the starting lineup as a shooting guard five games ago, Russell has averaged 24.6 points and 5.6 assists while shooting 48.8 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three and 84.6 percent from the free throw line.
Since the All-Star break Russell has scored in double digits in 15 of the team’s 16 games, averaging 19.8 points and 4.9 assists.
Clarkson has hit a similar stride since the All-Star break, also scoring in double digits all but one game, averaging 18.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds. In last weeks overtime win against Minnesota he scored a career-high 35 points, draining eight of the 10 threes he attempted, so the Timberwolves are well aware of what he is capable of.
Minnesota’s frontcourt is their two strength, as Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are two of the bright young stars in the NBA.
At just 21 years of age, Towns has already developed into a superstar as he can score in a variety of ways making him very tough to guard. In 73 games this season he has averaged 24.6 points and 12.1 rebounds. He has developed a consistent three-point shot, as he is shooting 35.4 percent from deep.
He had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to the Lakers, although he was benched at the end of the game after appearing to argue with head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Wiggins really has an ability to score the basketball from midrange. He’s averaging a career-high 23.0 points this season to go along with 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Thibodeau recently commented on Wiggins’ game, saying that he would like the young forward to work on his playmaking ability to get his teammates more involved.
Lakers forward Julius Randle will have some issues guarding his fellow Kentucky alum Towns, although Towns struggled with Randle on defense as well in their previous matchup when Randle scored 23 points to go along with 12 rebounds.
Randle and rookie center Ivica Zubac form one of the youngest starting frontcourts in the league. With that comes challenges defensively, as neither of them are elite paint protectors or have an ability to guard the pick-and-roll yet.
With Ingram out again, veteran Corey Brewer will keep his spot in the starting lineup as he provides defense, speed, and athleticism.
Three Keys To Victory:
Contain Towns: Towns has the ability to beat you by himself if you let him. He’s that good. So when he gets the ball in the post he should be double teamed almost at all times. Minnesota does not have any elite outside shooters, so making them a jump shooting team should be a priority.
Take Care Of The Ball: Given that both teams are so young, taking care of the ball is an issue. Minnesota ranks 20th in the league at 13.6 turnovers per game, while the Lakers are even worse, ranking 24th at 14.6. Whoever can take care of the ball Thursday gives their team a much better chance to win.
Communicate On Defense: Wth so much inexperience in the Lakers starting lineup, communication can be an issue, especially when guarding the pick-and-roll. Having a veteran like Brewer in the starting lineup should help, but communication will be a key to success on defense for Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Lakers (21-53) Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-44)
5:00 P.M. PST, March 30, 2017
Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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: Corey Brewer
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: David Nwaba, Tyler Ennis, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Nick Young