With a Minnesota Timberwolves 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament game scheduled against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night, a lot of eyes will be on the team that finished eighth in the Western Conference’s regular-season standings. Ahead of the Timberwolves-Lakers game, we’ll be making our Timberwolves 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament predictions.
Most of the basketball world is expecting the Lakers to beat the Timberwolves on the first night of the play-in tournament. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both healthy for Los Angeles. The Timberwolves will be without three of their top six players in terms of minutes played. Naz Reid has been out since the end of March with a broken wrist/ Jaden McDaniels and Rudy Gobert were lost two days before the start of the play-in tournament for inexplicable reasons. McDaniels broke his hand by punching a wall. Gobert was suspended for a game by the Timberwolves for punching Kyle Anderson during a timeout.
Even if Minnesota was healthy, it would be a clear underdog in Los Angeles. Beating the Lakers on the road with a trip to the playoffs on the line is a tall task. Our Timberwolves 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament predictions, however, indicate that Minnesota has a real chance to postpone the Lakers’ playoff hopes for at least a few more days.
3. Anthony Edwards will score at least 35 points for Minnesota Timberwolves
On defense, Gobert’s absence is going to hurt the Timberwolves against Davis and the Lakers. On offense, Minnesota could be much better with its starting center on the bench. Anthony Edwards should be the biggest beneficiary of Gobert’s suspension.
The Timberwolves had a more efficient offense with Gobert on the bench during the regular season. When Gobert played, Minnesota scored 112.5 points per 100 possessions. When Gobert was off the court, the Timberwolves’ offensive rating jumped up to 116.4. Gobert’s absence will free up Karl-Anthony Towns on the offensive end. It will also unclog the lane, giving Edwards more opportunities to score at the rim. Edwards thrived when Gobert was sent home in the finale. The former No. 1 overall draft pick finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and four steals. Edwards averaged 29.8 points in four games during April.
While making his playoff debut last year, Edwards showed why he has a chance to become one of the NBA’s top superstars. At just 20 years old, Edwards averaged 25.2 points on 18.3 field-goal attempts per game. One year later, Edwards should be even better when Minnesota needs him the most.
2. LeBron James will be held below 20 points for Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers beat the Timberwolves 123-111 when the teams last squared off on March 31. Los Angeles won in spite of an uneven offensive performance from James. The four-time MVP was held to just 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
It wasn’t exactly an aberration for James. His offense has been hit-or-miss since returning from the foot injury that nearly ended his season. In eight games since coming back from the injury, James has scored at least 33 points three times. James has also been held below 20 points in four of those contests. Davis’ dominance in the paint on particular nights has allowed the Lakers to survive low-scoring totals from James. Without Gobert protecting the rim, James could turn into more of a distributor. Los Angeles will look to take advantage of Minnesota missing the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
James shot the ball well to end the season, making 43.2% of his 3-point attempts in April. Through the end of March, James was just a 30.9% 3-point shooter for the season. It’s more likely that James will have a poor shooting night in the play-in tournament than it is for his impressive prowess from downtown to continue.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves will beat Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ turnaround has been impressive. It makes it easy to forget all of the question marks that plagued Los Angeles all season long. James is in the lineup, but his health is still a concern. He might not be quite 100% following his much-quicker-than-anticipated recovery. James is 38 years old, and the play-in tournament will mark his eighth game in 14 days. One fall to the floor could be the end of Davis’ postseason. We saw it happen just two years ago in the first round against the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns eliminated the Lakers from the first round of the 2021 playoffs in six games. Los Angeles came up short against a deeper Phoenix team with young stars in Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. Edwards and Towns can provide similar problems for a Lakers’ team that is led by a pair of older players who have battled injuries all year.
The Lakers took advantage of an easy schedule down the stretch to host Tuesday’s play-in tournament game. Los Angeles finished with a 21-27 record against teams that were .5o0 or better. Minnesota went 25-22 against opponents who were .500 or better. The Lakers were only five games above .500 at home. The Timberwolves had a winning record on the road.
The Timberwolves have a better chance to beat the Lakers than the odds suggest. Don’t be surprised if it’s Minnesota that punches its ticket to the playoffs for a first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies.
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