While the Lakers are riding high into the play-in game after an impressive second half of the season, the Timberwolves are as far on the other end of the spectrum. A sideline fight between Rudy Gobert and Kyle Anderson — which led to a one-game suspension for Gobert — was followed by Jaden McDaniels punching a wall and ending his season.
And while things can get weird in a one-off game, the Lakers have to feel pretty good heading into the play-in game. To answer some of the questions about what is going on in Minnesota and how this game may play out, we spoke with Jack Borman of Canis Hoopus.
Q: What’s it like to have a team that punches each other….err I mean what are the vibes like around the team after everything that happened on Sunday?
Jack Borman: Sunday was just another day in the undying chaos that is Wolves Land. But moving forward, it’s hard to imagine that the vibe would be anything other than frustrated. The Rudy Gobert incident was obviously problematic but pales in comparison to Jaden McDaniels — arguably the league’s best perimeter defender — punching a curtain without knowing there was a concrete wall behind it and breaking his hand. Not to mention that players were not happy about how much leaked out of the locker room and the national media circus that followed afterward.
The Timberwolves played inspired, p------ off, and connected basketball in the aftermath of losing their top two defensive players in large part due to Mike Conley putting his leadership and mediation skills to work in the halftime locker room. Anthony Edwards put together one of the most impressive halves of his career, while Karl-Anthony Towns looked as healthy as he has since returning from injury a few weeks ago, and Kyle Anderson had his winning fingerprints on everything the team did on both ends of the floor. Add in Taurean Prince, Jordan McLaughlin and Nickeil Alexander-Walker making crucial energy plays off the bench and you have a fearless group that will leave everything on the floor.
If the team plays close to the inspired brand of basketball they flexed on Sunday afternoon, they have the talent to give themselves chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. Keep in mind they beat the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden last month without Edwards and Towns behind 35 points from Prince and 14-24 (58.3%) shooting from deep.
Q: Without Gobert and with Reid injured, what does the center rotation look like now?
Borman: The Timberwolves will be rolling out a center rotation that includes Towns and Anderson. If either finds himself in foul trouble, expect Nate Knight to see some action against the Lakers’ bench.
Knight played for two minutes in Sunday’s win over New Orleans in order to bridge Anderson’s and Towns’ resting patterns, but he has experience playing in short-handed. He scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists in a win over the Boston Celtics back on December 27, 2021, during a period when COVID decimated the Timberwolves. Knight is a very foul-prone defender, but brings capable rebounding and very productive scoring to the table in his short stints; he averages 17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.7 fouls per 36 minutes.
For an idea of what the Wolves’ rotation might look like, check out the second half of Sunday’s game.
Q: McDaniels took the lion’s share of the defensive possessions against LeBron in the last game. Who takes the responsibility now for the Wolves?
Borman: I expect LeBron James to see a mix of Anderson and Edwards. Slow-Mo has the most experience guarding James and the Wolves may look to stick Edwards on his good friend Jarred Vanderbilt in an effort to avoid their superstar wing from getting into foul trouble. If Edwards ends up taking LeBron, expect Towns to sag off Vanderbilt and Anderson to draw the Anthony Davis assignment. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alexander-Walker got the start over Prince because he’s a better matchup to defend Reaves early, with Prince being the first sub off the bench to relieve one of Anderson or Towns once LeBron checks out of his opening stint.
Here’s a look at how LeBron has fared against Timberwolves defenders over the past three seasons. Note that data for Anderson, Prince and Gobert includes their previous stops.