The Pick: 105-98
I’ve been vocal about my not believing in the Lakers as anything but about the 10th best team in the West in a best case scenario, and after a few good wins, that is exactly where they currently stand. They rely on 3-point shooting and bench scoring, which is fine if you have proven 3-point shooters or bench scorers … but they don’t.
I don’t think I’ll get an argument by saying that Pau Gasol is far and away their best healthy player, and Minnesota rosters a better version of him in Kevin Love. Gasol has led a frontcourt that includes Chris Kamen and the active Jordan Hill to the third-most rebounds on a nightly basis, but the NBA’s leading rebounder figures to make continuing that trend in tonight’s game a bit more difficult.
Speaking of their breakout style of offense, the Timberwolves are actually averaging more transition points per game and rank in the top-10 when it comes to transition efficiency, so expecting a significant advantage — if any at all — for the Lakers is dangerous.
The case has been made that Love deserves to be in the MVP talk thus far, and if the Timberwolves are going to contend for a playoff spot, it is hard to imagine his candidacy fading. Over the past five days, the Lakers have been burned by a team’s best player in a huge way in all three of their games. Anthony Davis poured in a career high 32 points on 18 shots, grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted six shots. James Harden tallied 35 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. Monta Ellis dropped 30 points on Los Angeles on only 14 shots and recorded a 9:1 assist to turnover ratio.
In other words, the Lakers are going to have their hands full with Love tonight.
My man Ricky Rubio has been awful (28.1 percent shooting from the field this season, including 4-of-23 this week), but the Lakers’ “if we score three points and hold you to two, that’s good defense” mentality should fit him nicely. Los Angeles is turning the ball over 2.5 more times than they are forcing turnovers while the T-Wolves are +3.7. Rubio is been exposed in the half-court, but there are few guards in this league that are more lethal in transition, and I’m expecting Minnesota to push the pace all night long.
Fun Fact: The Timberwolves figure to have a distinct advantage at the free throw line in this contest. The Lakers’ lackluster defense is allowing more free throw makes (16.7) than the Timberwolves are allowing attempts (16.0) this season. Minnesota trails only two teams in terms of team free throw makes per night (24.8). Crunch the numbers, and the Timberwolves are projected to have an 8-10 point advantage at the charity stripe.
In the football spirit of a Sunday, give me the Timberwolves by a touchdown, meaning they will have more Sunday victories this season than the football team that calls Minnesota home.