The last time the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves met in the postseason, it came in the 2004 Western Conference finals with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal staring down Kevin Garnett. The stakes aren't quite as high 19 years later. The Lakers will host the Timberwolves on Tuesday in a game that will determine the conference's No. 7 seed. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't expect fireworks in this one.
The Lakers are the NBA's hottest team. They've won 18 of their last 26 thanks to the deadline additions of players like D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura. The Timberwolves? They run hot and cold. They won their last three games just to earn their way into this game, but lost three straight prior. Before that, they won four in a row after losing three. You never quite know which Timberwolves team is going to show up on a given night.
But with the winner advancing into the playoffs, we should expect everything the Lakers and Timberwolves have to offer. Here's how you can tune into the first Western Conference play-in game of the season.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers
- When: Tuesday, April 11 | 10 p.m. ET
- Where: Crypto.com Arena -- Los Angeles, California
- TV: TNT | Live stream: TNT app
- Odds: Lakers -8.5; O/U 233 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
Lakers: Does the old man still have one last run left in him? The last time LeBron James reached the playoffs, he struggled in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns due in part to a nagging ankle injury. Well, James is dealing with a foot injury again this time around, and just like in 2021, the Lakers couldn't get him extra rest by avoiding the play-in round entirely. Fortunately for James, the player who would have defended him in this matchup, Jaden McDaniels, is out with a broken hand. That should allow him to kick this postseason off with a bang, but we've simply never seen a 20-year veteran lead a team to a championship. James is in uncharted waters. If he's going to make history, we're going to see the start of it on Tuesday.
Timberwolves: Soooooo ... are the Timberwolves okay? Star center Rudy Gobert punched teammate Kyle Anderson in the huddle on Sunday and was sent home mid-game by the team as a result. McDaniels broke his hand by punching a wall afterward. Minnesota fought back in the game to earn the victory, but this isn't the sort of incident a team can just get over in a few days. How will the locker room handle Gobert's presence -- if he even plays? Can Minnesota defend the new-look Lakers without McDaniels? Minnesota, at its best, would be a formidable foe for the purple and gold. But in their current state, it just isn't clear how much of a fight the Timberwolves really will be able to muster.
The last time the Lakers played the Timberwolves, they got off to a slow start before stomping Minnesota by 22 points in the second half. The Wolves were dealing with an illness that had spread throughout the team, but it's not as though they're in a better state right now. Minnesota might hang tough for a quarter or two, but given Sunday's events, it's just hard to imagine them keeping James out of the playoffs. The pick: Lakers -6.5