The Los Angeles Lakers need one victory in their final four games to wrap up the top seed in the Western Conference. With or without Kobe Bryant(notes), earning that win is very much possible against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Trying to avoid matching a season high with their third straight loss, the visiting Lakers look for an 11th consecutive victory over the lowly Timberwolves on Friday night.
It’s uncertain if Bryant, averaging 27.1 points this season, will be given a second straight night off to rest his swollen right knee and aching right index finger. As a precaution, the All-Star sat out Los Angeles’ 98-96 loss at Denver on Thursday.
Bryant isn’t the only injured player for the Lakers, who can also clinch the top spot in the West with a Denver loss.
Ron Artest(notes), who had 22 points against the Nuggets, has been playing with a bruised left heel and a sprained left thumb, while guard Shannon Brown(notes) has been bothered by a sprained right thumb and Sasha Vujacic(notes) a sprained right shoulder.
Coach Phil Jackson has suggested he could rest some of his ailing players prior to the playoffs.
Though Los Angeles (55-23) remains in position to earn home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs, it’s lost five of seven overall and three in a row on road. The Lakers dropped three straight overall March 4-7.
Still, a visit to Minnesota might be enough to get them back on track.
Los Angeles is averaging 110.8 points during its 10-game winning streak over the Timberwolves (15-63), who will finish with less than 20 wins for the first time since 1992-93.
Though Bryant’s sore finger was likely for responsible for him shooting 13 of 47 from the floor in his last two games overall, he’s averaged 28.5 points in his last 12 against the Timberwolves.
Gasol, meanwhile, is averaging 22.7 points in his last six games in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves have lost three in a row since snapping a season-high 16-game skid with a 108-99 win over Sacramento on March 31.
Jonny Flynn(notes) scored 19 points and Kevin Lowe added 17 with 18 rebounds in a 116-107 home loss to Golden State on Wednesday. It was the second straight contest the Timberwolves allowed as many points.
“We have to change a whole lot about the way we play defense. Last few games we haven’t played any good defense. You cannot get wins in the NBA like that,” Corey Brewer(notes) told the Timberwolves’ official Web site.
Flynn had 20 points and Love added 19 with 11 boards in Minnesota’s 104-96 loss at Los Angeles on March 19.
It’s uncertain if Timberwolves’ leading scorer Al Jefferson(notes) (17.4 points, 9.4 rebounds) will return after missing Wednesday’s game and Thursday’s practice due to personal reasons. He’s averaged 22.2 points and 11.4 rebounds in his last five against the Lakers.