Improvised Wolves lineup can't hold off Lakers in fourth quarter

LOS ANGELES – Sunday was as atypical a game as the Timberwolves played all season. With injuries keeping out two starters, including defensive backbone Rudy Gobert, and two other rotation players, the Wolves were searching for a defensive philosophy that could work against the Lakers and they hoped the shots would keep falling.

They never found a groove defensively while the offense lasted three quarters but sputtered down the stretch of a 120-109 loss to the Lakers.

Losing dropped the Wolves to third place in the Western Conference.

The Wolves were down Gobert (right hamstring tightness) and the previously injured Karl-Anthony Towns (left meniscus) in their starting lineup. Their bench options got shorter with Monte Morris (left hamstring soreness) and Kyle Anderson (right shoulder pain) also out, and coach Chris Finch needed heavy minutes from those who did start.

Naz Red played a team high 42 minutes and had 25 points, 21 in the first half. Anthony Edwards (25 points) nearly played 40 while Nickeil Alexander-Walker (15 points) also played 39. It might have been no coincidence the Wolves' shotmaking betrayed them in the fourth when they began the quarter 0-for-9. That led to a 16-2 Lakers run from which the Wolves never recovered in their second consecutive loss.

"I think a lot of it was fatigue," guard Mike Conley said. "I think guys, when you get tired, you start giving up offensive rebounds, you start not getting back on defense as quickly as you should and they took advantage of that."

Anthony Davis also took advantage of the sudden lack of size the Wolves had on the court. Normally a team that uses its size to stifle opponents, the Wolves had to compensate for the loss of their towering frontcourt. Davis had a feast with 27 points, 25 rebounds (10 offensive), seven steals, five assists and three blocks. The Lakers shot 53% on the night.

"He should've dominated us," coach Chris Finch said of Davis.

Then Finch griped that officials allowed Davis to be in the lane for "seven, eight seconds every time they shot the ball."

"It's easy to go get [offensive rebounds]," Finch said. "But we got to do a better job of rooting him out."

The same day the league fined Gobert $100,000 for griping and gesturing at the officials in Friday's loss to Cleveland, the Wolves had more gripes about the officiating, with Edwards spending a decent chunk of his postgame comments discussing his issues with how the game was officiated. He pointed to Davis shooting 13 free throws, as many as the Wolves shot, as a problem.

"It's tough every night when we don't get to the free throw line as much as the other team," Edwards said. "When one player shoots more free throws than you're entire team, it's tough. It's tough to compete. When you miss a shot and they're going to the free throw line every time down the floor. It's tough, man. I tip my hat to my teammates and my coaches. Just gotta go out there and fight every night."

That the Wolves did, and through three quarters they led 92-91. But Reid's production dried up after scoring 21 in the first half. The Lakers switched their coverages against him, but Reid felt he left some offense out there.

"I think I probably got a little tired, but even then they didn't do nothing," Reid said. "Should've just came with more energy."

Defensively, the Wolves looked like a different team without Gobert on the floor. Conley said you could see that in their reactions on that end of the floor.

"Rudy does so well guarding the paint. Even when he's in the wrong spot, he'll tell you to get out of the way and he'll take up the position for you if you're the help defender," Conley said. "It kind of puts us in a tough spot if he's not there because we're so used to having him do that."

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That led to indecisiveness in where the Wolves were positionally.

"So tonight you saw a lot of it where guys were kind of hesitant getting over there and helping on the weak side and stuff like that," Conley said. "We were a step slow because we're used to having him pull us out of there."

Perhaps Gobert is back for Tuesday's game against the Clippers. The Wolves just completed their fifth game in seven days, which came after the Wolves have played four different back to backs since the All-Star break. The bumps and bruises are piling up, but can the Wolves prevent the losses from doing so?

"We say it all the time – everybody's dealing with something," Conley said. "Some deal with it better than others. When you see us out there, you know we're all hurting. We all got sprained ankles, ligaments torn, stuff going crazy. But we just find ways through it and the teams that can fight it and stay healthy and keep the group together the longest are the better teams."