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Lakers vs. Timberwolves Preview: A clash of size and styles

It’s going to be interesting to see whether Darvin Ham retains a small-ball lineup or pivots to a bigger starting unit to compete against the tallest team in the league.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are currently a chaotic circus, minus all the fun, quality entertainment and good vibes. It’s only been four games into the season and yet they’re already on the wrong side of history as they’re by far the worst 3-point shooting team (22.3%) that the NBA has ever seen. Their 96.9 offensive rating (league-worst) is on pace to be the third-worst in the last 20 seasons.

So there’s no sugarcoating it — the Lakers do, indeed, stink right now. They can’t throw a ball in the ocean to save their lives and it’s immensely hurting them every game. In Wednesday’s 110-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets, their defense (which has been the lone bright spot for the team to start the season) gave up 35 fastbreak points, 60 points in the paint and 54 rebounds alluding to their lack of size, urgency, and overall talent and capabilities.

It’s become clear that If the Lakers’ defense (which didn’t hold up for the most part in the second half of Wednesday’s loss) doesn’t back up their struggling offense, they barely look like a competitive team on the floor. And despite LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing like the elite superstars they are and averaging 25.3 and 24.0 points, respectively, it’s just mindblowing and sad to think about how this team can’t get past their opponents.

Now with the Minnesota Timberwolves up next on their grueling early schedule, it’s going to be interesting to see how Los Angeles approaches this match. The Lakers are desperate for a win but so are the Timberwolves (3-2) who are trying to find their footing with their newly constructed roster this early in the season. Here’s what to look out for on Friday’s primetime match and perhaps moving forward:

Do the Lakers go big or small?

With Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns pioneering their frontcourt, the Timberwolves are by far the tallest team in the league. They also have a rising superstar in Anthony Edwards slotted in the guard position along with former Laker and old friend D’Angelo Russell to complete their backcourt. Now, how does the Lakers’ small ball lineup occupied with mostly short guards (who can’t seem to be serviceable on the offensive end as of late) keep up with the Timberwolves? Can they battle through the height disparity in the first place?

It’s going to be interesting to observe whether Darvin Ham retains a small-ball lineup or pivots to a bigger starting unit by perhaps sliding in Damian Jones or even Wenyen Gabriel at the 5. The Lakers already have problems rebounding the ball (they rank 22nd in the league) and containing the rim with their overall limited height. The last thing they want to do is give way for both Gobert and Towns to have their most dominant and best game of the season on Friday.

When will the role players show up?

We’re four games into the season and we still haven’t seen quality offensive performances from Kendrick Nunn, Patrick Beverley, and most of the Lakers bench. Outside of James and Davis, only Lonnie Walker IV (15.3) and Russell Westbrook (10.3) are averaging above 10 points per game. Beverley (18.8%), Nunn (23.5%), Walker IV (17.4%), and Juan Toscano-Anderson (12.5%) are all shooting horrendously from the perimeter so far. The Lakers simply won’t win games if they can’t keep up with their opponents on the offensive end.

At the very least, the team’s most outspoken role player remains hopeful that the Lakers’ perimeter shooting is gradually progressing as each game passes.

Still, the purple and gold shouldn’t wait for their shooting to magically appear and they need to do something about this pronto. It’s clear as day that the Lakers’ lack of scoring production affects their’s overall spirit and energy on both ends of the floor.

How much longer can LeBron and AD carry this team alone?

Davis (35.1) and James (36.2) are so far averaging the most minutes on the team per game this season — which isn’t ideal for Ham, who has said multiple times that his goal is to preserve his superstars by limiting their playing time. Davis has played all of his minutes so far at the center position, which we all know he isn’t comfortable in. James, who racked up 19 points, nine assists, and eight turnovers on 2-of-8 3-point shooting on Wednesday’s loss, could possibly burn out if he has to continue carrying this team for 35 minutes a game.

Aside from their inability to win games despite playing at a high level, another concern for the duo is the wear and tear they’re going to continue to put their bodies through. How much longer can Davis and James (who are both coming off injury-riddled seasons) carry this team? Davis barely made it through Wednesday’s game in one piece, and only time will tell if both superstars can continue to grind through their rigorous schedule ahead given the number of minutes they’ve played and are expected to.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers stumble upon a Timberwolves team that currently ranks 10th in the league on offense (113.7) and 16th (110.2) on defense. Aside from the Wolves’ frontcourt, L.A. needs to watch out for Edwards, who is coming off a huge 34 points and nine assists performance against the San Antonio Spurs.
  • On the injury report for Friday’s game, Davis (lower back tightness) and Westbrook (hamstring) are listed as questionable while James (left foot soreness) is probable. Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder (thumbs) remain out.
  • For the Timberwolves, Kyle Anderson (back) is questionable for Friday’s game.
  • Zooming out around the league, only the Milwaukee Bucks (3-0) remain undefeated in the standings. In the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz (4-1), Portland Trail Blazers (4-1), Phoenix Suns (3-1), New Orleans Pelicans (3-1), and Memphis Grizzlies (3-1) are all currently on top of the standings after the first week of the regular season.

The Lakers and Wolves will tip off at 5 p.m. PT on Friday. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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