Their season-high, three-game losing streak behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to round into playoff form. A matchup with the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves could help the Western Conference leaders continue that development.
Los Angeles looks to win five straight for the first time in nearly three months Friday when it goes for its 10th consecutive victory over the conference-worst Timberwolves, who have dropped 11 in a row.
Since their first three-game slide in two years, the Lakers (50-18) have gotten back on track. They capped a 3-0 trip with a 106-99 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday.
“We’re playing with more of a sense of urgency,” Kobe Bryant(notes) said after scoring 30 points with nine rebounds and seven assists. “Guys understand that we can be beaten. Once you understand that, you understand that that day can come. Guys have to remained focused.”
The Lakers have held teams to 44.6 percent shooting over the last four games after opponents hit 48.4 percent during the skid.
“I think we’re tightening it up and playing better defensively,” said Pau Gasol(notes), averaging 27.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in the last two games. “We know there are only 14 games left in the regular season. It’s a good time to step it up and play at our highest level.”
Hosting the Timberwolves (14-55) could help the Lakers win five straight for the first time since Dec. 15-22.
In a matchup at Staples Center on Dec. 11, Los Angeles won its ninth in a row over Minnesota, 104-92. Gasol scored 17 points with 20 boards and Bryant added 20 points despite playing the second half with a splint on his right index finger after suffering a small break while reaching for a pass.
The Timberwolves lost for the 17th time in 18 games Wednesday, 122-100 at Utah. Former Lakers player and assistant coach Kurt Rambis, in his first season leading Minnesota, is trying to get his team to find reasons to play hard every night.
“Every team that we are facing is in playoff mode right now so they have a light at the end of the tunnel - something to fight for,” Rambis said. “So our guys are going to have to look within themselves to find that fight.”
Facing a Lakers team that’s averaging 110.3 points on 49.5 percent shooting during its winning streak could present a major challenge for the Timberwolves, who are allowing 115.2 points per game during their 11-game slide.
Since being suspended for two games by Minnesota following a DWI arrest, Jefferson is averaging 19.7 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 56.8 percent from the field in six contests.