2 reasons Timberwolves will beat Lakers without Rudy Gobert in 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament

Of all the junctures in the 2022-23 season to self-destruct, doing so just before the postseason begins is arguably the worst time to do so. This is the point of the campaign where the team needs to lock in to achieve the goal of, at the very least, making a deep playoff run. However, the Minnesota Timberwolves did the exact opposite of locking in after Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson, and Jaden McDaniels each lost their heads in the first half of their crucial game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

However, even though fits of temper threatened to put the Timberwolves in such a precarious play-in tournament spot (they would have needed two wins to make the playoffs as the eighth seed), Minnesota managed to pull out all the stops necessary to defeat the Pelicans, setting themselves up for a date against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, a team that has posted the second-best record in the NBA since trading away Russell Westbrook prior to the trade deadline.

Still, the Timberwolves’ rousing win over the Pelicans came at a hefty cost. The team has suspended Rudy Gobert for his actions towards Kyle Anderson, while Jaden McDaniels is out indefinitely, suffering a fractured hand after punching a wall in frustration. This has made the Lakers the heavy favorites to nab the seventh seed out West, and for good reason.

But in a single-game format, anything can happen. Underdogs sometimes manage to come out on top, like they do over and over again during March Madness. Facing LeBron James and Anthony Davis may not be an easy task, but the Timberwolves, of all teams, know that there is no such thing as an impossible outcome in the NBA.

Here are two reasons why the Timberwolves can pull off the unthinkable and beat the Lakers without Rudy Gobert in the 2023 NBA play-in tournament.

The Karl-Anthony Towns effect

Karl-Anthony Towns has not had the best 2022-23 season. The Timberwolves couldn’t quite figure out how to make the Towns-Rudy Gobert fit a seamless one, leading to a bit of downtick in the 27-year old center’s numbers across the board (except for assists), and to make matters worse, Towns missed 53 games total this season mostly due to the calf strain he suffered back in late November.

Even then, it’s clear that Towns, despite catching some flak over the years, remains an extremely talented big man, and his sweet shooting remains a difficult conundrum to solve for opposing defenses. Despite being shorthanded against the Pelicans, it was Towns who stepped up to the plate and led his team to victory, giving the Timberwolves the lead in the fourth quarter (with three straight triples) that drastically shifted the momentum towards their favor.

Simply put, in a single-game format as the Timberwolves’ lone center, Towns will have plenty of space, both at the rim and on the perimeter, to stretch the Lakers’ defense, perhaps beyond its breaking point. With Gobert out of the picture, the Timberwolves should reasonably start five players who can stroke it from deep (Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Taurean Prince, Kyle Anderson), which should open up driving lanes.

Perhaps what the Lakers do to counter this is to stash Anthony Davis on the Timberwolves’ worst shooter (maybe Kyle Anderson, if only because of how slow his release is) and put Jarred Vanderbilt on Towns to neuter those floor-spacing actions. But that could mean that Towns will get plenty of opportunities in the post, and he could certainly make defenses pay with his passing.

Lakers keep games uncomfortably close (which is good for the Timberwolves)

The Lakers may be in the middle of their best stretch this season, and their margin of victories tend to be comfortable in the end, but that’s not to say that they have been this unstoppable force that’s been destroying teams left and right.

Over the past few weeks alone, the Lakers have had a tendency to sleepwalk for stretches against shorthanded teams. In their final two games against the Jazz that had Kelly Olynyk as its best player, one ended up going to overtime, while the other remained close until there was only a little over a minute remaining in the fourth.

Meanwhile, a Phoenix Suns team without Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul managed to stay in the game against the Lakers before the purple and gold pulled away in the fourth.

It’s certainly telling that the Lakers still took care of business against those teams, so plenty of fans and pundits expect them to do the same against the Timberwolves. After all, LeBron James will certainly be locked in, and there might not be a scarier sight in the NBA than a locked-in King, his advanced age (38 years old) notwithstanding.

But if the Timberwolves hang around and make it a close game until the dying embers of the game, similar to what they did to the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2022 play-in game, then they should have the necessary shooting to at least make the Lakers sweat.

And who knows, they might end up pulling off an upset to set themselves up for a rematch against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The post 2 reasons Timberwolves will beat Lakers without Rudy Gobert in 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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