Los Angeles Lakers: 3 bold predictions for 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament vs. Timberwolves

The Los Angeles Lakers turned a 2-10 start into a 43-39 record and earned the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. As a reward, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Co. will host the beleaguered Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40) in the Play-In game on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers are a conference-best 16-7 since the All-Star break and have won 9 of their last 11 games. They’re 6-2 since LeBron returned from his foot injury. They’ve posted the fourth-best defensive efficiency in the NBA during that timeframe. They’ll be as healthy and deep as possible on Tuesday; Dennis Schroder — who has missed the last two games — is back, nobody is questionable or doubtful, and last-minute signees Tristan Thompson and Shaquille Harrison will be available.

“I just think the sky’s the limit, man,” Darvin Ham said of his team’s playoff potential. “I think if we’re healthy and we get the team to pay attention to detail and continue to alleviate mistakes that may be a little repetitive and sustain the things we’re doing well, I think sky’s the limit. Any team with LeBron James and a healthy Anthony Davis, (D’Angelo Russell), Dennis, (Austin Reaves)…(Jarred Vanderbilt) … We’re not going to put a ceiling on our own selves.”

The Timberwolves have won 7 of 10 but are coping with a chaotic 48 hours. All-Star center Rudy Gobert is suspended for the Play-In after punching Kyle Anderson on Sunday, and their best wing defender, Jaden McDaniels, broke his hand by punching a wall.

Karl-Anthony Towns is listed as questionable with a calf strain. Backup big Naz Reid — a recent Lakers killer — is out for the season.

Darvin Ham says he doesn’t think the Rudy Gobert / Timberwolves situation will be a “distraction” for the Lakers.

“It’s not Laker business and we’re all focused on Lakers business. It’s an unfortunate situation. But I really don’t have an opinion on it.”pic.twitter.com/wHWtjyHv4F

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) April 10, 2023

At practice on Monday (primarily a film session), Ham cited defensive rebounding, on-ball guarding, and shot-contesting as points of focus for the Lakers — understandable, considering the Wolves’ depleted frontcourt.

Drama aside, the Lakers — who have lamented their lack of rest since last week — are simply grateful to play host.

“It’s different cause usually in the postseason you have multiple days of prep for a team,” said LeBron. “But you literally have one day to prep. … For us, it’s just good that we don’t need to travel. We’ve traveled a lot lately. It’s good that we get to stay here, but we shouldn’t be comfortable. We have to stay on edge and get ready for the game.”

The Wolves won the season series 2-1, but the Lakers easily handled them, 123-111, on March 31 — the only meeting in which both LeBron and AD suited up. Davis had 38 and 17 and stomped all over Gobert and KAT.

“Those are their top two defensive guys,” AD said about the absence of Gobert and McDaniels. “But they’re probably a little bit better offensively as far as spacing … We haven’t seen that this year.”

AD gives Darvin Ham credit for helping him stay positive throughout the ups and downs of the season https://t.co/uWGWe3ArlE

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) April 10, 2023

The stakes are high enough, but D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley could be especially motivated to end their ex-employer’s season.

Malik Beasley on the Wolves matchup: “Excited to play them, get our revenge back — me, Vando, and DLo — do what we gotta do to win a championship.”

As for if he’s watched the Wolves recently? “I don’t care about them. I care about what we got going on.” https://t.co/AbjZehY5Mz

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) April 9, 2023

Tuesday’s clash will be the first full-capacity Lakers home postseason game since LeBron joined the franchise in 2018. It will mark the first postseason meeting between the teams since the 2004 Western Conference finals.

The winner will draw the Memphis Grizzlies. The loser will host the winner of New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. Let’s make a few predictions.

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3. The Lakers will keep Anthony Edwards in check

“It’s a challenge versus everybody, and Minnesota is no different,” said LeBron. “When you got guys like KAT and Anthony Edwards, those guys can both go for 40 against you. … You have a very cerebral, solid point guard in Mike Conley who’s been in multiple playoff games. We know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Ham emphasized one-on-one perimeter defense at Lakers practice for a reason. Los Angeles may bulk up protection on Ant’s drives and force him to dish via feisty on-ball D. They’ll force him to rely on his compromised supporting cast or test AD at the rim. Edwards averaged 24.6 PPG this season. He’ll go under.

2. LeBron will guard KAT

Davis can guard Towns at all three levels, but it doesn’t make sense to have AD personally check him. The Wolves’ big is arguably the greatest perimeter-shooting seven-footer ever not named Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Finch may want to utilize his long-range accuracy to draw Davis out of the paint.

LeBron doesn’t play a ton of D these days — especially while nursing a torn foot tendon — but he’ll dial it up for the postseason. If he can adequately hang with Towns on the perimeter and in the post, AD can hold down the fort inside.

1. The free-throw line will be the difference

The Wolves have surrendered the third-highest free-throw rate in the NBA since the trade deadline, per Silver Screen & Roll. The Lakers lead the league in free throw attempts per game in that span. Since Feb. 11, Reaves (16.4 PPG) is amongst the league leaders in FTA.

Increased aggression from the Lakers sans Gobert, Reid, and McDaniels will put the Lakers at the line far more often that their opponent. Regardless of how they shoot from downtown, the foul shooting discrepancy will be the X-factor in a comfortable Lakers win.

The post Los Angeles Lakers: 3 bold predictions for 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament vs. Timberwolves appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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