The Lakers (38-38) are in Minneapolis for a critical matchup with the Timberwolves (39-38), with the winner of the game set to clinch the No. 7 seed and keep a shot at the No. 6 spot in play. The game tip at 5 PM PT on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV and 710 ESPN radio.
Below are three things to know before the match:
WHAT IS ON SPES?
Answer: the likely higher seed in no. 7 vs. no. 8 play-in games, and a shot at the No. 6 seed.
With the Timberwolves already holding the tiebreaker over the Lakers thanks to one win in October and one in March, a Wolves win would essentially give them 2.5 games with just four left to play. On the other hand, if the Lakers win, they would move one game ahead in the loss column with five left to play.
Minnesota wraps up their season against POR, @ BKN, @SAS and vs. NOP. They are likely to be favored in all four matches.
Lakers finish @ HOU, @ UTA, @ LAC, vs. PHX and vs. UTA, and will benefit in at least three games, with two question marks depending on who is available.
If the Lakers lose to Minnesota, it's hard to imagine them as the higher seed. In fact, they would need to go 5-0 to reach 43 wins, a number the Wolves would hit by going 3-1. If the Lakers went 4-1, Minnesota would have to go just 2-2, with at least two of their opponents (POR and SAS) more focused on … rebuilding.
But if the Lakers beat Minnesota, they could go 4-1 in their last five to reach 43 wins, and Minnesota would have to go 4-0. If the Lakers won on Friday, but were shut out 3-2, Minnesota would have a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, the 6-seeded Golden State Warriors (40-37) finish against SAS, @ DEN, vs. OKC, @SAC and @POR. They will benefit in at least three of these games; conservatively, they should finish with 43 wins, requiring the Lakers to go 5-1 to match them. The Lakers hold the tiebreaker against GSW, which at least keeps the conversation open.
At this point, Denver (No. 1), Memphis (No. 2) and Sacramento (No. 3) are pretty much entrenched in their respective seeds. Most likely: the No. 6 seed will draw the Kings, the winner of the No. 7/8 play-in game the Grizzlies, and the winner of the 9/10 winner vs. the 7/8 loser Nuggets.
All of this is subject to change daily, so…stay tuned!
As for the game itself, the Wolves will be without one of the best bench players in the NBA this season, Naz Reid, who suffered a broken wrist on Wednesday night.
NEW START FIVE
For just the second time* since the Lakers acquired five players at the deadline, they were able to get D'Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt on the floor at the same time as LeBron James and Anthony Davis for a full game. And for the first time, the coaching staff inserted Austin Reaves alongside Russell in the backfield, replacing Malik Beasley.
*The first was a dominant 120-102 win over New Orleans on Feb. 15.
The results were immediately, and obviously, evident as the group created and hit open shot after open shot while getting stopped at the other end in Chicago on Wednesday night. The lead was 16-8 after four minutes when LeBron drilled a three from Reaves, and 23-8 when Vanderbilt hit a corner 3 from Davis, before Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura replaced LeBron and Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt saw some of his minutes go to other players as the game wore on, but the other four finished with these respective plus/minus totals after a 121-110 game that wasn't that close:
Russell: +35; Reaves: +28; LeBron: +23; Davis: +16.
The second quarter featured a bench unit that likely won't see many more minutes as LeBron continues to return to full fitness and health after a month-long absence, as he only played 31 minutes.
After the game, I asked LeBron what worked so well with the starting five.
“I think the first thing is we have multiple ball handlers,” LeBron said. “Nobody needs to feel stressed handling the ball every possession. We've got shooters in that starting lineup. And we've got a lot of length.”
Anthony Davis weighed into the starting lineup in the walk off interview after going for 38 points, 10 boards, four assists, two blocks and two steals.
In 12 games into his second stint in Los Angeles, the numbers certainly resemble what D'Angelo Russell has done on the basketball court.
In his 30.9 minutes per game, Russell has a 13.9 net rating, by far the best on the team, bolstered by a 121.1 mark on offense and 107.2 on defense, both of which lead the team.
Also, in his 371 minutes, he is +116, good for a 9.7 per game average.
He shoots the ball well from the field (47.9 percent) and from three (40.0 percent, converting 2.7 of 6.7 attempts) has an impressive assist (6.2) to turnover ratio (2.3 ).
Often in the NBA, it takes a while to develop chemistry and cohesion with a group of five. But not always. And not when there's so much skill and basketball IQ, which I asked Russell about.
“Yes, it's that simple,” he replied. “If you have guys like that around you, the game is super easy. If you don't force it, it will come to you eventually. (The opponent has to) rotate, they have to adjust when they dominate the game like that. Take advantage of it when it happens.”
“We just played really good basketball,” said Reaves of the Bulls game, and his fit next to Rusell. “When you have that much talent on the court — ‘Bron, AD, D-Lo especially, and then you fit me and Vando in there, scrimmage guys, play the right way, that's really what I thought we started the game really on the right way. Doing the extra pass, and just a lot of energy.”
Russell has really enjoyed playing with Reaves.
“If you can dominate the game from a lot of different areas, and have that versatility, I don't know if you can name anything Austin Reaves can't really do on offense, he dominates the game,” Russell said. “And myself, I try to do the same, so when you got us next to those two guys out there, the game is just super easy. We got off to a good start, and you can kind of get a taste of it.”