Target Center should be rowdy tonight, welcoming back the Minnesota Timberwolves after a three-game California road trip that ended with perhaps the most pointed accusations against the NBA’s referees from any locker room this season.
That atmosphere will be needed to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers, half a game behind the Timberwolves in the heated chase for playoff positioning in the Western Conference.
Here are our free NBA picks and predictions for Lakers vs. Timberwolves on March 31, with tip set for 8:00 p.m. ET.
Lakers vs Timberwolves best odds
Lakers vs Timberwolves picks and predictions
Rudy Gobert said what many Timberwolves fans have been thinking all season when he effectively accused NBA referees of favoring larger markets on Wednesday night. Set aside whether or not Gobert is right — assuredly, he is not, but we can all agree the officiating has been a wreck this season — there will be an effect to his words.
The first aspect of that will be a riled-up Target Center. Take it from a season ticketholder, Timberwolves fans are coordinated and loud with only one chant: It‘s three syllables long and derides the refs. Minnesota fans will be energized by Gobert’s vitriol to start the night, and then any bad call will be met with all that much more juice.
That may not seem particularly relevant to what is supposed to be a detailed handicap, but an early surge from the crowd could contribute to a fast Wolves start.
And Minnesota has been playing well early as of late. Trailing by one point after the first quarter at Phoenix is hardly a knock, same with being tied after the first 12 minutes at Golden State. The Timberwolves led the Kings by nine after the first quarter on Monday, not to mention that was on the second half of a back-to-back.
In the last five games, Minnesota has exceeded first-quarter expectations four times, the exception being against the Hawks in Karl-Anthony Towns’ return to the lineup, with him starting from the jump, possibly throwing off the Timberwolves’ early habits.
The NBA is a game of runs, we all know this. With this spread hanging around pick’em — in the span of writing this handicap midday Friday, the spread has moved from favoring Minnesota by a point to looking at the Timberwolves as one-point underdogs — no quarter or half line will stray from the pick’em range. But they should. This is a game of runs, someone will get out to a strong start. Acknowledging that creates value.
That’s more likely to be Minnesota tonight, simply given the home environment further sparked by Gobert’s grievances. The Timberwolves have been playing well early in recent games. In an otherwise even matchup, that slight edge could be the most value found on the board tonight.
My best bet: Timberwolves win the first quarter (-105 at FanDuel)
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Lakers vs Timberwolves spread analysis
No disrespect to Naz Reid, but the Friday morning confirmation of his fractured wrist should not have moved the line. Yet at some point around the lunch hour, many books began favoring the Lakers.
There may be a marketwide assumption the stomach flu will continue to slow the Timberwolves, namely Kyle Anderson, Anthony Edwards, and Taurean Prince. It could also be confidence in the Lakers with LeBron James increasingly finding his game legs after missing nearly a month with a foot concern.
It’s difficult to gauge the current iteration of the Lakers, given D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James have played only three games together, but Los Angeles did win outright and against the spread in all three of those games, favored by two buckets in each of them.
But keep an eye on that injury report. If Edwards and Anderson are both cleared to play, particularly if there is any optimism they have overcome the intestinal flu that bothered both on Wednesday and kept Edwards out of a game or two last week, there should be value in the Timberwolves as underdogs.
Since the trade that sent Russell to Los Angeles and brought Mike Conley to Minnesota, the Timberwolves are 7-2 ATS as underdogs when Anderson plays at least 19 minutes and Edwards plays at least 30. Those minimum minutes marks are not designed to skew that record; rather, they simply sort out games in which back spasms have cut into Anderson’s play after trying to give it a go or Edwards sprains his ankle in the first quarter.
Furthermore, that mark includes Minnesota falling one point short of covering at Phoenix on Wednesday despite the team clearly showing late-game fatigue thanks to the road trip and the flu.
Lakers vs Timberwolves Over/Under analysis
Reid has been an offensive spark for the Timberwolves. This may be hard to comprehend if not watching every Minnesota game, but losing Reid means the Timberwolves may now struggle on offense for stretches — of the third quarter, in particular. Reid made Minnesota’s bench unit that much more dynamic.
The Timberwolves’ defense has already been playing well lately, the key to that successful California trip. It will now be needed that much more tonight.
Two of Los Angeles’s three games with this big three have gone Under their totals, tonight’s set at 232.5, a number that did not fluctuate more than half a point since opening Thursday evening.
Gobert’s refereeing complaint on Wednesday could cut two ways tonight: Either the Timberwolves get more calls for them or the Lakers get fewer calls their way. Given Los Angeles has shot more free throws of late than anyone else in the league, that would be an easier item to cut back on. At that point, the Under could have more momentum, particularly since a light whistle would embolden Minnesota’s defense.
Lakers vs Timberwolves betting trend to know
The Under is 6-0 in the last six meetings between the Lakers and the Timberwolves. Find more NBA betting trends for Lakers vs. Timberwolves.
Lakers vs Timberwolves game info
|Location:||Target Center, Minneapolis, MN|
|Date:||Friday, March 31, 2023|
|Tip-off:||8:00 p.m. ET|
|TV:||Spectrum, Bally North|