Neither of these teams expected to be in the play-in when the season started. One will make this a very short stay and move on to where they want to be.
The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers in the 7-8 play-in game in the West. The winner advances to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed and takes on Memphis in the first round starting Sunday. The loser will play again Friday night and host the 9-10 West play-in game-winner between the Thunder and Pelicans.
The Lakers are the relatively-heavy favorites (-8 at our partner Points Bet), but what do Karl-Anthony Towns and company need to do to get the win? Here are three things to watch.
1) No Gobert or McDaniels creates real matchup problem for Minnesota
The last time these teams played, Jaden McDaniels drew the LeBron James defensive assignment, while Rudy Gobert was the man on Anthony Davis. The two best Timberwolves defenders on the two best Lakers.
Minnesota punched its way out of those matchups.
Gobert has been suspended for this game by the team after he punched teammate Kyle Anderson in the chest during the final game of the regular season. Gobert apologized, but the team felt it had to send a message with a suspension.
Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gobert had to be held back after Gobert swung at Anderson in HEATED exchange 😳 pic.twitter.com/jvB9xawHNn
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 9, 2023
During that same game, Jaden McDaniels walked back toward the locker room and punched a wall in frustration, fracturing two bones in his hand. He is now out indefinitely.
Doesn't change the result (broken hand), but the tunnel McDaniels went down is covered in a plastic curtain. I'm told he hit the curtain not knowing there was a concrete wall behind it. He apologized to his teammates and coaches & took responsibility for his mistake, sources said https://t.co/R8UeMjh3tl
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) April 10, 2023
Minnesota has survived Gobert’s absences this season, the team statistically has been the same whether he was on the court or the bench. With Karl-Anthony Towns’ improved play of late at the five, Minnesota could win without Gobert.
That will be harder without McDaniels, the team’s best perimeter defender. The Timberwolves are 4.4 points per 100 possessions better when McDaniels is on the court this season, and they get outscored when he sits.
Also, not having Naz Reid (fractured wrist) hurts for front-line depth in this matchup against a big Lakers team.
Anderson, Towns and others will have to step up defensively for Minnesota to have a chance Tuesday night.
2) The Lakers need a big Anthony Davis game
The Lakers have gone 9-2 over their last 11, and since the All-Star break they have the third-best offense and the third-best defense in the league.
A lot of that is about Anthony Davis playing like the bubble version of himself — on both ends of the court. In his last 10 games, Davis is averaging 26.3 points per game on 58.2% shooting, with 12.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game
Davis likely will be guarded by Towns to start the game, a matchup he can exploit. For the Lakers to make a deep playoff run like they hope, Davis can’t just be good, he has to be All-NBA, top 15-player elite. He has done it of late, the only question with Davis is can he stay healthy enough to do it for multiple rounds of the playoffs?
Davis should be a force on Tuesday night.
The Lakers also could benefit from the D'Angelo Russell revenge game.
3) Can Minnesota not foul and keep the Lakers off the line?
The Timberwolves foul a lot. They have the fifth-highest foul rate in the league and opponents get to the line 25.6 times a game against them, the third-highest number in the league.
The Lakers — especially with LeBron and Austin Reaves — are a foul-drawing machine with the second-highest free throw rate in the league. They get to the line 26 times a game, the most in the league.
It doesn’t take a Tex Winter-sized basketball brain to see where this is going: If there is a Laker parade to the free throw line Tuesday night, the Timberwolves will lose. Minnesota will be unable to make up the points Los Angeles racks up at the free throw line.
Free throw attempts are a stat to watch in this game.