February 16, 2018, 4:01 am
The Lakers led for the bulk of the game on Thursday, before getting thoroughly outplayed in the fourth quarter, falling to the Timberwolves 119-111.
Los Angeles held an 88-76 lead with two minutes in the third quarter before letting Minnesota finish the period on an 8-3 run to cut the lead to 91-84 heading into the fourth. The Timberwolves would build on the momentum established in that run to go on a 14-6 burst to take an early lead. The fourth really belonged to them as they outscored the Lakers 35-20 in the final frame to send the Lakers home reeling.
Jimmy Butler was acquired from the Bulls this offseason to take Minnesota to the next level; he accomplished just that on Thursday, entering the game in the fourth with a six-point deficit and catapulting the Timberwolves to victory, his team outscoring the Lakers by 14 points in the fourth. He entered the final frame with 15 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and a minus-2 rating. He ended up finishing the game with 24 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal, three blocks and a plus-12 rating. He struggled from the field making only 7-of-20 from the field, 0-of-7 from 3-point line but hitting 10-of-11 from the free throw stripe. He appeared to will his team to victory down the stretch.
The Lakers did a fairly good job of corralling the Timberwolves other All-Star, Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT, as he is referred to, finished with 10 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and two blocks but made only 2-of-9 from the field, well below his season shooting percentage and scoring average.
In his stead, Taj Gibson scored a career-high 28 points and collected seven rebounds, one steal, two blocks and a game-high plus-13 rating while hitting 11-of-16 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line.
The Wolves other major offseason acquisition, Jeff Teague, chipped in 20 points, six assists, three rebounds and one block on efficient shooting, hitting 6-of-9 from the field, 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 6-of-7 from the free throw stripe.
The Lakers had several solid efforts that helped keep them ahead for three quarters, along with a few lackluster efforts that served to undermine their overall performance and contributed to the loss.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a plus-2 rating (only Laker starter with a positive rating) while knocking down 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
There was an Ivica Zubac sighting on Thursday as the young center contributed 19 points, 11 rebounds and a plus-5 rating while making a perfect 8-of-8 from the field.
Julius Randle continued his strong play as a starter with 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block on 8-of-15 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line.
Kyle Kuzma started the game 3-of-5 in the first quarter for eight points but did not make another shot, going 0-of-7 from the floor the rest of the way to finish with eight points and two rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas didn’t post an appealing stat line tonight, accumulating seven points, five assists, five turnovers and a minus-8 rating while converting only 3-of-15 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point attempts; Jamal Crawford (15 points on 6-of-11 shooting) got the better of him on the other end too. However, Thomas managed the tempo of the game well for the Lakers, and this is a major positive that has been overlooked. Getting accustomed to a new team is no easy task for any player, but it’s especially difficult for a point guard who has to learn all the new players around them. Thomas, while he hasn’t performed well on the stat sheet, has showed promise in the other intangible areas of the game and that could help lead to some success post-All-Star break.
He is a great player who was a legitimate MVP candidate last season — he just needs time to continue to recover from last year’s hip injury as well as get himself into basketball shape. The Lakers will use the All-Star break to sort out some of the schematic issues created by their deadline deal. In the interim, Thomas will work in the gym to works on his game-shape and health. He will also be honored by having his jersey retired by his college team, the Washington Huskies.
Key Stats and Observations
- The two teams had identical rebounding stats in this contest with both teams grabbing 46 total rebounds, 11 offensive rebounds and 35 defensive rebounds.
- The Lakers were badly hurt in the free throw department as they converted only 18-of-26 free throws (69.2 percent) vs. 29-of-31 (93.5 percent) for the Timberwolves. One key to the game was the Lakers inability to play defense without fouling in the fourth quarter as Minnesota went to the line 15 times, making 14 attempts.
- Los Angeles did a good job defending the 3-point line through three quarters, holding the Timberwolves to 3-of-17 (17.6 percent). Minnesota heated up in the final period, knocking down 3-of-7 good for 42.8 percent. Los Angeles struggled from deep, making only 7-of-31 (22.6 percent) for the game.
- The Lakers extended their league-leading totals in scoring in the paint with 62 points on Thursday. Unfortunately, they also continued their trend of allowing their opponents to do so as well, conceding 50 key points to the Timberwolves.
- Minnesota accrued 10 blocks compared to only four for the Lakers. Butler punctuated the Timberwolves victory with two stellar blocks on one possession late in the fourth quarter — a block on a Randle dunk attempt and then following it up by swatting a Thomas finger roll.
The Lakers will limp into the All-Star break in need of some much-needed R & R — recovery and resuscitation.
For Los Angeles, that will come in the form of starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who is expected to return from an extended absence due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. The Lakers have badly missed his defense at the point guard position, his ability to finish an offensive possession, as well as his past-first mentality that helps ignites the ball movement that has been sorely lacking in his absence.
The Lakers will open the season’s final 25 games by hosting the Dallas Mavericks on Friday February 23. The last time the two teams met, Dallas defeated Los Angeles 130-123 in a game that destroyed the Lakers’ momentum and defensive identity. Los Angeles went from winning 12-of-16 to a three-game losing streak.
One person responsible for the Lakers’ demise was NBA walking legend Dirk Nowtizki, who scored 22 points with four rebounds on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
Should Ball return, fans will be treated to a matchup of high pedigree point guards as he faces off with No. 9 overall pick Dennis Smith Jr.