The Lakers closed the 2022-23 regular season extremely strong, winning 13 of their final 18 games after a loss to Minnesota on March 3.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis both healthy, the Lakers are in a great spot to advance against a Minnesota team that had a ton of turmoil in its final game of the 2022-23 regular season.
The Wolves lost star defensive wing Jaden McDaniels to a fractured hand after he punched a wall on his way back to the locker room. That isn’t the only player who will miss Tuesday’s play-in game, as center Rudy Gobert was suspended for punching teammate Kyle Anderson in Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
BREAKING: Rudy Gobert will NOT play vs. the Lakers on Tuesday in the play-in tournament, per @wojespn.
— Lakers Daily (@LakersDailyCom) April 10, 2023
While the Wolves seem like a total mess right now, it’s worth noting that they did beat the Pelicans to secure the No. 8 seed in the West heading into the play-in. That gives the team two chances to win one game to make the final postseason field.
The Lakers went 1-2 against the Timberwolves in the regular season, winning the final meeting between the teams on March 31.
Picking up a win on Tuesday would not only give the Lakers more time to rest before their first-round playoff matchup, but it would also give them a matchup with the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies instead of the No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets.
It also would put them on the opposite side of the Western Conference playoff bracket of the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers. Phoenix is a tough team with Kevin Durant now in the fold, and the Clippers have dominated the Lakers recently, winning the last 11 meetings between the teams.
With that in mind, here are three keys for the Lakers to pick up a win over the Timberwolves in the play-in tournament:
1. Slow down Anthony Edwards
With Gobert out of the lineup, there is going to be a little more pressure on Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns to deliver for the Wolves on Tuesday.
Edwards has been great for the team in his third NBA season, earning his first All-Star appearance and averaging 24.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
The Lakers have done a good job defending Edwards this season, holding him below 20 points in two of the three meetings between these teams. Edwards scored just 11 points in the Lakers’ win on March 31 over the Wolves.
So far this season, Minnesota is just 11-13 when Edwards scores fewer than 20 points. With both Gobert and McDaniels out, the Wolves don’t have nearly as many options to replace his scoring, so if Los Angeles can slow down Edwards, it’s going to have a great shot to win this game.
The Lakers could opt to put their defensive maestro, Jarred Vanderbilt, on Edwards in this game, but it will be a team effort to slow down the All-Star guard. Regardless, holding him to fewer than 20 points is a great benchmark for the Lakers to aim for.
2. Win the turnover battle
Based on how these two teams have played so far this season, the Lakers already have the edge in this category.
Los Angeles ranks 11th in the league in turnover percentage (13.7 percent) while the Wolves clock in at 25th (15.0 percent).
The reason why the Lakers need to win the turnover battle is because the Wolves are one of the best teams in the league in turning opponent miscues into points.
The Wolves rank seventh in the NBA in points off of turnovers per game (18.0).
The Lakers? Well, they are just 29th in that statistic this season (14.0).
In a winner-take-all matchup for the No. 7 seed, one bad night of turning the ball over could completely swing this game in Minnesota’s favor, especially since it will need some easy baskets with two key rotation players out.
If the Lakers can take care of the ball, they’re going to be delivering a major hit to one of the most important parts of Minnesota’s offense.
3. Feed Anthony Davis down low
This may be the most obvious key for the Lakers, as the Wolves are down their best interior defender in Gobert and another one of their bigs in Naz Reid in this game.
Davis dominated the Timberwolves in the month of March, scoring 38 points in both of his meetings against them.
It’s also worth noting that Towns had some issues with fouls in the playoffs and the play-in tournament last season. The Wolves big man fouled out of Minnesota’s play-in win last season, and he picked up five fouls in three different games in the team’s series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Attacking Towns in the paint by feeding Davis is not only a way to get Towns out of the game, but it may be the Lakers’ best offense with how well A.D. has played in the 2022-23 season.
If the Lakers execute in these three areas, they’re going to be a tough team to beat on Tuesday night.