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Lakers vs. Timberwolves Preview: Triple threat match with officials?

After Rudy Gobert’s comments and the Lakers’ favorable free-throw differential going viral, will Friday’s game between the Lakers and Timberwolves conclude with the officials playing a major role of the game?

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers had their revenge on Wednesday, beating the Chicago Bulls on the road after losing at home to them just three days prior.

The game featured a brand new starting lineup for the Lakers which saw Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves, and D’Angelo Russell flanking LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And with how much success that lineup had, especially on the offensive end, don’t be surprised to see it for the rest of the regular season (and, hopefully, the postseason).

Playing most of the time against the Bulls’ starters, that starting lineup posted a whopping 65.2 net rating, featuring an insane pace of 154.8 points per 100 possessions. The scoring barrage was, of course, led by Davis (38 points) and LeBron (25 points), but Reaves and Russell pitched in admirably with 19 and 17 points, respectively.

And speaking of the Lakers making the postseason, their odds of doing so continued to increase with Wednesday’s win. Below you can see the respective records of the 5-12 seeds of the Western Conference heading into Thursday’s action, showing the Lakers in a good position to at least make the play-in tournament for the concluding 7-10 seeds.

  • 5. Clippers (41-36)
  • 6. Warriors (40-37 - 1 game back of 6th seed)
  • 7. Timberwolves (39-38 - 2 games back)
  • 8. Lakers (38-38 - 2.5 games back)
  • 9. Pelicans (38-38 - 2.5 games back)
  • 10. Thunder (38-39 - 3 games back)
  • 11. Maverics (37-40 - 4 games back)
  • 12. Jazz (36-40 - 4.5 games back)

On Friday, they will receive an even greater opportunity to improve their odds at securing a postseason berth by facing off against the Timberwolves in Minnesota. However, one of these two teams (or both) may end up facing an additional adversary in the game within the game...

Lakers vs. Timberwolves vs. The Officials

NBA officiating has been a topic of intense discussion across the league for nearly the entirety of this 2022-23 season. No team has been at the center of the discussions more than the Lakers, with those conversations nearing their peak frequency when the Lakers were on the wrong end of incorrect calls made at the end of a string of games that caused them to lose.

The most noteworthy and final of which was the 125-121, overtime loss on Jan. 28 in Boston against the Celtics, where LeBron almost raised hell itself after an obvious foul on his drive wasn’t called, leading to the overtime that the Lakers could not win. LeBron and the rest of the Lakers let the league know how they felt after (if it wasn’t obvious from the game itself), and — as it has seemingly happened throughout the history of the NBA — the league may have course-corrected itself.

Just look at the following statistics, which, of course, have been dug up by opposing broadcasts and general Lakers haters.

Now, if you look at the game-by-game free-throw differential leaders each of the past 10 seasons, you’ll see a preferential treatment towards the Lakers and other big-market franchises probably doesn’t exist (h/t @ElGee35 on Twitter). But that’s beside the point for this upcoming matchup between the Lakers and Timberwolves.

I point all of this out as the Timberwolves come into this one fresh off of Rudy Gobert intensely calling out the officiating in the team’s most recent game vs. the Suns, a 107-100 loss on Wednesday night.

His criticism of the NBA officiating wasn’t limited to Wednesday night, however, as he insinuated that the league’s referees consistently make calls that benefit the big market teams and superstars in an effort to get them in the playoffs. He even mentioned a few of those entities, including LeBron, Kevin Durant, the Warriors, and... the Kings?

All of the above seems to set this game up perfectly for a weirdly officiated game. NBA officials are humans just like the rest of us. They see and hear these things. And unfortunately, there may be a slight chance that these types of news stories affect their officiating whether they realize it or not.

In what could be delightful timing with WWE’s WrestleMania coming this weekend, could we NBA fans be treated to a triple-threat match of our own with the Lakers, T’Wolves, and referees going head-to-head-to-head?

Of course — whatever the result — I hope the officiating will be a non-story. However, with Gobert’s quotes the other night and LeBron’s consistently held-up arms at the end of nearly all of his drives, that seems unlikely.

We’ll just have to selfishly hope that Gobert and the rest of the T’Wolves feel slighted in pursuit of the Lakers continuing to climb the standings with only a few games remaining in this season.

Notes and Updates

  • LeBron James (right foot soreness) will again be listed as questionable. He was listed as this before Wednesday’s game vs. the Bulls and still played. He’s done this for most of the season. There aren’t any noteworthy signs that he’s in danger of not playing on Friday.
  • Other than that, the Lakers’ injury report is looking pretty clean after D’Angelo Russell returned Wednesday after a two-game absence. Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) is probable while Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider (G-League play) are out.
  • Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) will remain out. On Thursday, the LA Times’ Dan Woike provided as much of an update as he could regarding Bamba.
  • The Timberwolves’ injury report is pretty extensive, however, it may not result in too many absences with stars Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Rudy Gobert set to play (and yes, the “Ryan” is our old friend Matt Ryan).

The Lakers and Timberwolves will tip off at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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