February 15, 2018, 6:15 pm
The Lakers (23-33) head to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves (35-25) on Thursday for the final NBA game before the All-Star break. The Lakers had been hot, winning 12-of-16 before a recent skid that has them losing two contests in a row, while playing terrible defense.
As coach Luke Walton succinctly put it:
“We’ve got to get our mojo back. We somehow lost it quickly. The last two games, offensively, we’ve been fine. We’re just not playing any defense. We’ve had breakdowns from the 3-point line, our 3-point defense, switching, simple pin-downs, simple parts of the game defensively, we’ve just stopped executing. It’s why we’ve made it such a big point of what we want to do this year. It doesn’t matter how good your offense is if you’re not going to play defense.”
His description is quite apt; the Lakers have given up 134.5 points per game in their last two contests, leading their defensive rating to plummet from ninth on the season to 13th, with a rating of 105.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. In the last contest (a questionable description), the Lakers gave up a season-high 139 points to the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that is still acclimating to the loss of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.
Their frustration was apparent on the court Wednesday with both new acquisition Isaiah Thomas and coach Walton being ejected. Thomas was goaded into his dismissal by another former Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo, who according to Thomas, was upset regarding a tribute the Celtics wanted to show in Thomas’ favor. Regardless of the cause, it appeared that Rondo had extracurricular activities on the mind and the referees chose to eject both players rather than the instigating party. That questionable decision, as well as a few other calls in the Pelicans’ favor, was the reason that Walton eventually earned his ejection. Perhaps he has also trying to find a different way to motivate his team into exerting more effort on the defensive end — it did not succeed.
The Timberwolves have proven to be a tough matchup for the Lakers this season, in particular due to their blossoming big man Karl-Anthony Towns. For the season he is averaging he is averaging 20.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers per game while shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 85.5 percent from the line. As his stats portend, he is an extremely versatile and skilled player — the Lakers truly do not have a player that matches up with his size and athleticism.
The second difficult matchup for Los Angeles is wing Jimmy Butler, a two-way player who can shut down three positions, make shots and create for his teammates. He is contributing 22.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 86.4 percent from the line.
- One element of their defense that the Lakers must improve is defending down low where they now allow 49.0 points in the paint per game (29th). In the last contest they allowed an eye-popping 62 points in the paint.
- The Lakers turned the ball over 20 times in the last game, contributing to their 18.9 points per game off turnovers (29th). Los Angeles must take care of the ball as their defense is bad enough without allowing their opponents easy buckets off of careless errors.
- Los Angeles turns the ball over 16.0 times per game (29th) compared to the Timberwolves who only turn the ball over 12.6 times per game (2nd).
- The key to victory for the Lakers is defense. In their wins they have a defensive rating of 97.3 points per 100 possessions (3rd). In their losses they allow 111.0 points per 100 possessions (13th).
- The Timberwolves are a much better team at converting from the free throw line as they knock down 80.0 percent from the line (4th) vs. Los Angeles who only makes 69.6 percent (30th).
Projected Starting Rosters
Brandon Ingram (PG)
Josh Hart (SG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
Jeff Teague (PG)
Jimmy Butler (SG)
Andrew Wiggins (SF)
Taj Gibson (PF)
Karl-Anthony Towns (C)
Lonzo Ball (knee/MCL) – OUT
No Injured Players
Time: 6:00 PM PST, 9:00 PM EST
Television: TNT, SPECSN/SPECD, NBA TV CANADA, TNT-SAP,
Radio: 830 WCCO, 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES