The Los Angeles Lakers may be able to clinch another Pacific Division crown Friday night. Of course, that’s not too meaningful to the two-time defending NBA champions.
The Lakers should be able to ease into their return from a three-day break between games as they look to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 15th straight time.
Los Angeles (48-20) can clinch a fourth straight division title with a victory and a loss Friday by Phoenix to Golden State. It’s not surprising that the Lakers aren’t concerned about winning the Pacific.
The Lakers, tied with Dallas for the second-best record in the Western Conference, have not played since opening a seven-game homestand with Monday’s 97-84 win over Orlando.
Coach Phil Jackson’s club has won 10 of 11, and he wants that level of play to continue over the last 14 games of the season.
“We always talk about the fact that you have to save some energy and have a build-up at the end of the season,” Jackson said. “You can’t do that with a team that’s not playoff-bound or of championship quality, you have to push them from the start, and this team understands that this is the time to push it to get ready for what remains of this season and the postseason.”
“It’s still an ankle that’s badly sprained,” Jackson said. “He’s got to be doing therapy a lot.”
Bryant is shooting 35.0 percent and averaging 18.7 points over his last three games.
Minnesota (17-52) should not pose much of a threat Friday. The Timberwolves have dropped their last two games by an average of 19.0 points, allowing Utah to shoot 54.8 percent in a 119-104 loss Wednesday.
“They just sliced us apart,” coach Kurt Rambis said. “Whenever a team gets 60-plus points in the paint scored on you, you don’t give yourself a very good chance.”
The Timberwolves have not beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007, and have lost nine straight in the series at Staples Center.
Los Angeles is 3-0 in the season series, winning by an average of 14.0 points in two road games. The lone matchup at Staples Center was a 99-94 victory despite former UCLA star Kevin Love’s(notes) 24 points and 23 rebounds.
Love’s 53-game streak of double-doubles ended in the opener of this three-game trip Sunday against Golden State. He could find it difficult inside Friday because of how Lakers center Andrew Bynum(notes) is playing.
Bynum has posted four straight double-doubles and is averaging 15.8 rebounds over his last six games.
“Some nights he’s got to score,” Jackson said. “He’s got the hands that can make the games different. But every night he can change it with rebounding and defense.”