Lakers vs. Timberwolves Preview: Can LeBron James & Co. Grind Out a Win?

Action Network Senior NBA Writer Matt Moore previews how to bet Friday's matchup between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers.

Lakers vs. Timberwolves Odds

Lakers Odds +2
Timberwolves Odds -2
Over/Under 222.5
Time 10 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a COVID outbreak with multiple players out for this game, including their starting point guard. But the show must go on.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves have won two in a row and might have some momentum. They are now 13-15, but are 13-10 when D’Angelo Russell plays this season. With so much up in the air, where should we looking to bet in this matchup?

Let’s break down Lakers-Timberwolves.

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Absences Heavily Impacting Lakers Consistency

Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Avery Bradley are all out in Health and Safety Protocols. Malik Monk was in, but was released after a negative test. Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza are both still out with injuries.

It’s rough. This is essentially the Lakers’ rotation:

  • LeBron James
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Kent Bazemore
  • Austin Reaves
  • Anthony Davis
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Rajon Rondo

The Lakers signed Isaiah Thomas under the hardship exception, and we have no idea whether he plays or not in this spot, but he might have to.

It’s a shame the team is without so many players because they’re finally starting to turn their season around. The Lakers are second in Defensive Rating over the past two weeks. That’s what you want to see, even as they are 28th in Offensive Rating. The Lakers’ title chances are much better if they can get back to defending at a high level.

So how do the players who are out affect the defense?

In the past two weeks, Avery Bradley has the best defensive rating and difference between on-court and off. So that’s a loss. DeAndre Jordan is second, though. Talen Horton-Tucker is fourth.

Maybe the bigger concern is that in this good stretch for the Lakers, Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore, and, yes, Anthony Davis have the worst defensive ratings. Two of those three players will definitely be in the rotation for this game (Monk hasn’t officially been taken off the injury report just yet), so that’s concerning.

As far as the matchup goes, the other concern is turnovers. The Lakers are 24th in turnover rate. The Wolves are No. 1 in opponent turnover percentage thanks to their aggressive, blitzing scheme.

The Lakers are only decent in transition defense, ranking 17th league-wide per Synergy. So this is a Wolves edge.

However, it’s important to note how the Wolves force those turnovers. They blitz in pick-and-roll. They’re good in other areas in forcing turnovers, but that’s their primary mechanism. However, Westbrook is responsible for the highest turnover percentage, especially in pick-and-roll where they turn it over 22% of the time.

If Rajon Rondo plays, that’s a target for potential turnovers. But if James runs the majority of possessions, he’s predictably a low-turnover player who can manage the blitz easily.

Minnesota creates the seventh-most shots at the rim, but ranks 27th at converting them. The Lakers, on the other hand, allow the third-most shots at the rim, but rank 15th in percentage allowed. The Lakers have made huge strides in this defensive stretch in terms of points allowed in the paint.

So will the Wolves’ uninspiring offense benefit from creating more shots or will the Lakers continue to manage the rim, even without Howard?

The Lakers are short on shot creators, which is why Reaves’ emergence in the Mavericks game suddenly matters.

Can the Wolves Maintain Their Recent Play?

The Wolves are fully healthy, as of now, but with COVID ripping through the league, be aware things may change dramatically before tipoff. It’s just the reality of betting right now.

Minnesota is coming off an absolutely berserk shooting performance vs. the Nuggets, where they hit 23-of-48 3-pointers. Teams have hit 20 3’s four times this season.

An important trend to watch: Favorites facing teams that hit 20 or more 3s in the previous game are 59-21 (73.8%) SU and 49-31 (63%) ATS since 2013. The under is 44-36 in those games.

The way to read this is that oftentimes teams regress pretty hard the next game after an outlier shooting performance.

Still, the Wolves are an undervalued team. As I mentioned above, they are 13-10 when Russell plays. They are eighth in half-court defense and their offense is only now really regressing to form.

As also mentioned above, the Wolves should be able to force turnovers vs. the Lakers, though Westbrook’s absence changes that somewhat.

Davis has feasted on Minnesota throughout his career, though. He averages 32 points per game against Karl-Anthony Towns while shooting 57% from the field. Towns scores 22 per game against Anthony while shooting 51% from the field and 49% from 3. It’s an absolute showdown.

The Wolves have a few more high-end defenders than in previous years. Jarred Vanderbilt in particular has brought physicality and high-IQ defensive plays. He will help counter the Lakers’ physicality.

Lakers-Timberwolves Pick

Injuries to the Lakers have unquestionably moved this line towards the Wolves. There’s no way Minnesota is a favorite, even at home, vs. the Lakers if they are full strength.

Normally in this spot, I’d be looking to fade the action against the injuries. Are the guys missing really worth that much to the spread?

Westbrook in particular is divisive. He’s viewed as an overall negative player; I wrote on how the Lakers are at least considering the idea of looking for trade options involving the All-Star guard.

Here’s a nasty stat that you need to hear, however:

The Lakers with all three of their stars (James, Davis, and Westbrook) outscore opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions, a healthy margin.

Without Westbrook, lineups featuring Davis and James have been outscored this season by 7.7 points per 100 possessions.

OK, but the Lakers have played better as of late. So how have they done in the past two weeks in those conditions?

All three stars: +20 Net Rating
Davis & LeBron without Westbrook: -1.3 Net Rating

At full strength for full season numbers, I make this line Wolves -2.1 based on transition and halfcourt matchups, built mostly on the Wolves’ defense. With Westbrook out I might move this to Wolves -3, giving a full two points of value here.

I still don’t love it.

If the public moves this to Lakers -1, I’ll be on the Wolves for a small play.

What I like much better is the total. I have this projected at 219 vs. a 222.5 line that’s already moved down a a point and a half from open (I grabbed it at 223.5).

We have:

  • A Lakers team missing multiple guards and scorers plus Westbrook’s 20 points per game
  • A Wolves team coming off an outlier shooting performance which historically leads to regression
  • A Wolves defense that’s underrated by the market
  • A Lakers defense that’s improved considerably over the past two weeks
  • A Lakers team that turns the ball over a lot vs. a Wolves defense that creates a lot of turnovers but a Wolves defense that struggles to score in transition (fifth-worst in the league per possession via Synergy Sports)

This projects as a fast game, both teams are top 10 in pace and offensive possession length via It projects as a close game. But I still think there’s a decent chance it’s a sloppy, ugly game that winds up being more of a grind and it goes under.

Pick: Under 222.5 | Wolves ATS if they move to underdogs