Let's get the bad out of the way. The 7-6 Los Angeles Lakers lost to the 4-7 Minnesota Timberwolves, 107-83, thanks in large part to yet another third-quarter meltdown in a season full of them, only this one was the worst in team history.
That's not a typo. The -28 point differential between the Lakers and the visiting Timberwolves (who outscored LA 40-12 in the period) last night bested the -26 point differential between the then-rebuilding, post-Kobe Lakers and the Sacramento Kings on December 12, 2016, tied with a January 9, 1995 contest against the Trail Blazers during the Nick Van Exel era, for this ignominious mark, the lowest in LA history. During the frame, the Lakers fell back on their worst instincts: settling for tough jumpers and being reticent to score from inside the paint (the Lakers took just four shots in the restricted area during the period).
The Lakers' available role players were terrible, with no one not named Anthony Davis or Russell Westbrook scoring more than nine points. The roster's age showed, as the creaky club couldn't keep up with the young and hungry Timberwolves on either side of the ball.
LA struggled to control the ball on Friday night, coughing up 19 turnovers. The club's shot selection was again suspect, as the Lakers settled too often for jumpers and were not assertive enough in the paint. The team's defense was weak, as Lakers players failed to contain power forward Jarred Vanderbilt (who scored 31 points), center Karl-Anthony Towns (who had 19 points and seven rebounds), or old friend D'Angelo Russell, the second pick by LA in 2015, who popped off for 36 points, with the Lakers' guards unable to stop him from getting whatever he wanted.
It looks like LA's best player, LeBron James, could be days away from returning to the floor. When Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn or Austin Reaves can suit up for LA remains a bit more tenuous.
The Lakers will hope to stop the bleeding against the 4-8 Spurs at Staples Center tomorrow, and then will have to do battle against three Eastern Conference playoff-caliber clubs in the Bulls, Bucks and Celtics.
So that's the bad. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel spoke after the game about how the Lakers plan to "get our execution better." Let's try to find the light in the darkness of this defeat, shall we?
Benching DeAndre Jordan
The Lakers' former starting center was a healthy scratch last night, with even young power forward Sekou Doumbouya, on a two-way contract, getting mop-up minutes at the end of regulation over DJ. It took just 13 games for DeAndre Jordan to transition from starting center to effective persona non grata. Sure, in certain matchups I don't mind him seeing spot minutes, but at this stage of his career the former All-Star should not be a regular part of the rotation.
Davis started at center as the Lakers opted to go small. Dwight Howard was the prime backup five, playing nearly 23 minutes, scoring nine points, grabbing ten boards, and notching two steals and a block for his trouble. He is clearly the better player and this trend should continue.
Starting Wayne Ellington
Ellington, who like practically every other Laker this season is incredibly old and no longer as good at defense as his reputation would suggest, stepped into a starting role for the first time this season. He was bad, sure, but not nearly as bad as incumbent starter Kent Bazemore, moved up to power forward in a small ball starting five last night.
Bazemore scored no points and was a -25 on the night in just 15:32 of game action, an impressive feat. Ellington's six points came from 2-of-7 three-point shooting. Ellington played nearly 28 minutes last night. The fact that he didn't score much is disappointing, but his willingness to shoot from deep (Bazemore took just three triple attempts, missing them all) is a positive sign. Ellington had started at shooting guard for the club's first two preseason contests, alongside James, before he went down with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. Bazemore's awful recent offensive performances and decreased minutes load suggest Vogel may be considering a switch of roles once LeBron returns to the lineup.
Letting Malik Monk And Carmelo Anthony Take A Bunch Of Threes
Sadly, Staples Melo was not a thing on Friday night. Carmelo Anthony, at 37 the second-oldest active player in the NBA behind 41-year-old Udonis Haslem, went 1-of-12 from the field last night, including a paltry 1-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. But his fearlessness is ultimately a positive thing. Melo's main role on this club is spreading the floor for LA's three stars. He failed to effectively do that tonight, but he remained confident in his stroke.
The same is true for Malik Monk. The young shooting guard also had an off-night, shooting just 1-of-7 from three-point range and 3-of-11 from the field overall.
It's imperative that Anthony and Monk not lose confidence and be aware of their roles as release valves on offense for the Lakers when things really matter. Feeding them plenty was the right thing to do. They'll have better nights again soon. As will this team.