Lakers Stalled by Rough Start at Minnesota

Joey Ramirez
Jan 1, 2018 11:05 PM ET

Brandon Ingram dribbles against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 1, 2018. (Credit: (Ty Nowell/Lakers.com))
2018 couldn’t have begun much worse for the Lakers, who fell behind 16-0 to start Monday’s game at Minnesota. On New Year’s Day, the Lakers eventually pulled within five before allowing another huge run that led to a 114-96 Timberwolves victory. When Minnesota stormed out to the lead, coach Luke Walton pulled all of his starters just four minutes into the game. “They kicked our a—,” starting shooting guard Josh Hart said. “There’s only so much you can say.” The backups played the Wolves (24-14) pretty evenly from that point on, but the Lakers still trailed by a dozen at halftime. Then the starters chipped in at the beginning of the third quarter. The Lakers (11-25) hit three 3-pointers early on (including two by Kyle Kuzma) to chop their host’s lead down to 66-61. But they were buried under an avalanche minutes later, with Minnesota scoring 13 unanswered points to put the game out of reach. Defensively, the Lakers failed to contain one of the NBA’s top scoring teams, as Jimmy Butler put up 28 points, nine assists and 11 free throws (with seven turnovers). Andrew Wiggins added 21 points, while Karl-Anthony Towns bumped up his league-leading double-double tally with 16 points and 13 rebounds. While heavy legs from playing a double-overtime game in Houston the night before certainly contributed to the loss, the lack of defense was particularly frustrating for a team that has been among the league’s best on that end for most of the season. The Lakers made their defense all the more challenging with sloppy offense, as their season-high 24 turnovers led to 29 of Minnesota’s points. “The turnovers are the most frustrating because a lot of them weren’t forced,” Walton said. “A lot of them were us being lazy with the ball or dribbling too much into traffic.” Much of this sloppiness stemmed from the absence of Lonzo Ball (shoulder sprain), who typically pilots the Lakers’ offense for the majority of the game. In his stead, the Lakers started Tyler Ennis (seven points, four assists, zero turnovers), who was effective with the ball in his hands but not so much when working off the ball for many possessions. Backup point guard Jordan Clarkson led the team with 20 points, but half of them came in an uncompetitive fourth quarter. He also had four assists and three turnovers. The other main ball handlers — Alex Caruso (one point, one assist, three turnovers) and Brandon Ingram (14 points, one assist, two turnovers) — did not fare much better. The Lakers lost their fourth straight game without Ball, who ranks eighth in the NBA in assists (7.1) and is largely responsible for the team’s dangerous transition offense. Without him in Minnesota, they scored only seven fast-break points. “Whether he’s making shots or not, the way he plays basketball makes us a better team,” Walton said. “… Zo’s someone that we believe makes big plays, makes winning plays.” The Lakers wore their Minneapolis throwback uniforms in their former home city. … Julius Randle had 15 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive). … Minnesota shot 49.4 percent from the field.

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