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The Los Angeles Lakers (15-13) are going on the road to face the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves (20-6) on Thursday evening.
Both teams are on the second night of a back-to-back and are coming off losses to Eastern Conference opponents. The T’Wolves let Joel Embiid score 51 points in a 14-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Lakers fell by 16 to the resurgent Chicago Bulls.
Here, we will react to the betting odds and share our favorite picks for the Lakers vs. Timberwolves matchup on Thursday.
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The Lakers cemented themselves as one of the top teams in the league with a dominant run through the In-Season Tournament capped off with a win against the red-hot Indiana Pacers in the championship game—at least, that’s what it seemed like until they lost four of their last five games and entered a three-game losing streak.
Wednesday’s 124-108 loss to the Bulls was one of their worst performances in recent weeks. They allowed Chicago to shoot 54.5% from the field and 52.9% from beyond the arc and lost the rebounding battle 48-40.
The loss dropped them to 5-10 on the road and gave them just one win in their last five games outside of their arena.
The Lakers’ issues are quite apparent. They’re only 25th in three-point percentage (34.4%) and 28th in three-pointers made per game (10.4), which means that they need to be dominant on the interior on both sides just to have a shot against contending teams.
On the bright side, they’re eighth in defensive rating and have looked like the best defensive team in the league when fully engaged. But at the same time, they’re only 17th in rebound rate, very poor for a team with LeBron James (25.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists) and Anthony Davis (24 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks), and 19th in turnover percentage.
LA’s issues also seem to manifest themselves even more on the road. They’re 25th in road net rating and are 16.7 points per 100 possessions worse on the road than at home.
Compare that to the Timberwolves who, last night’s loss aside, have been arguably the most consistent team in the league. They have nine wins in their last 11 outings and are 11-1 on their home floor, only losing to the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 24.
The Wolves’ calling card is their defense. They have the lowest defensive rating and allow opponents to score the fewest points per game on the worst shooting percentage in basketball. That’s a recipe for success if there ever was one.
Last night’s debacle against Embiid and company was the first time they’ve really been exposed this season. The reigning MVP dominated them with 51 points and 12 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey added another 35 points with five made threes.
One of Minnesota’s few weaknesses is that they’re extremely poor on the defensive glass for their size. Even with Rudy Gobert (12.4 points, 12.0 rebounds) and Karl-Anthony Towns (22.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) anchoring the paint, they’re only 15th in defensive rebound rate.
The Wolves aren’t an explosive scoring team but have a steady offense and a takeover scorer in Anthony Edwards (24.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists). They’re also eighth in three-point shooting (37.9%) and have more than enough to win lots of games if their defense continues to play at or around its current level.
Embiid showed last night that the Wolves’ menacing interior can still be beaten, though it will require a tremendous individual effort.
There’s a lot of pressure on Anthony Davis to dominate this game. He averaged 27.9 points and 13.3 rebounds in December and needs to be ready to do that or better while also hounding the offensive glass.
This is just the second time this season the Timberwolves will play the second night of a back-to-back. The other time ended in a 115-133 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the middle of November.
Conversely, the Lakers have already played five back-to-backs, going 2-3 with an average scoring margin of -7. They did not cover the spread a single time in those five games.
We expect this to be a low-scoring game defined by misses and strong defense. We see a world in which the Lakers cover or even win this game, but the more likely alternative is that Davis and LeBron have great games but LA loses.
Lakers vs. Timberwolves pick: Under 224.5 (-105) at BetMGM
When: Thursday, Dec. 21 @ 8:00/9:00 p.m. CT/ET
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
TV: NBA TV
Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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