After stumbling into the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers are once again playing like a title contender.
Little suggests this will change with a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The surging Lakers look to win their 14th straight over the Timberwolves when they meet Tuesday night at the Target Center.
Los Angeles (42-19) arrives in Minnesota after Sunday’s gritty 90-87 win over Oklahoma City opened up a 4 1/2-game lead over the Thunder for third place in the Western Conference. The Lakers rallied from a 14-point, second-quarter deficit and turned up the defense after halftime, holding Oklahoma City to a season-low 31 second-half points.
Los Angeles has won four straight, including victories over Atlanta and Portland - two other possible playoff teams - after going into the break riding a three-game losing streak capped by an embarrassing loss at lowly Cleveland.
“The rest did the guys some good,” said Kobe Bryant(notes), who finished with 17 points Sunday to move past Elvin Hayes for seventh on the NBA’s career scoring list. “It was a chance to kind of recover, regroup, and focus on the opportunity that we have ahead of ourselves.”
The Pacific Division-leading Lakers, now within two games of second-place Dallas in the West, are playing much better offensively, averaging 102.0 points during the winning streak after averaging 87.7 during their skid.
A loss to the Timberwolves would certainly not fit into those plans.
The Lakers haven’t lost to Minnesota since falling in double overtime on March 6, 2007. They’ve won 13 straight in the series since, making this their longest current winning streak over any opponent.
Los Angeles has actually been more productive lately at the Target Center than at Staples Center, averaging 114.2 points in winning the last six in Minnesota.
The Lakers won 112-95 in Minneapolis on Nov. 19 after beating the Timberwolves 99-94 on their home court 10 days earlier. Bryant combined for 56 points in those two games, while Gasol totaled 34 points and 24 rebounds.
While Los Angeles attributes its turnaround to the All-Star break, Minnesota (14-46) credits snapping a seven-game skid to a passionate team meeting.
A day after a frank discussion in which players and coaches vented about their frustrating season, the Timberwolves defeated Golden State 126-123 on Sunday for their first win since Feb. 8.
“This was almost a must-win for us,” said Love, who has four 30-point, 20-rebound games this season. “We felt like we haven’t been playing well the past five or six games, and we had to come out and win this one. So we’re just happy we did.”
Love extended his NBA-leading double-double streak to 46 games, and is now within five of matching Moses Malone’s record for consecutive double-doubles set from Dec. 29, 1978-Oct. 12, 1979.
Love’s run began after he was held scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds against the Lakers on Nov. 19. He had 23 points and 24 boards in the first meeting.