Mired in a disappointing season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been resurgent of late. But they've still showed they have a thin margin for error, particularly with turnovers and free-throw shooting.
That margin may be a little wider than usual Thursday night when they try to extend their run of 20 straight wins over the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves - the longest active streak in the NBA.
The Lakers are 28-30, but their recent 11-5 stretch has been a step in the right direction for a team whose season would be a total disappointment without a playoff appearance.
However, two areas continue to plague them. Los Angeles' 15.3 turnovers per game rank near the bottom of the league, while its 69.0 percentage from the free-throw line is last.
Both issues reared their heads in a 119-108 loss at Denver on Monday. The Lakers committed 12 of their 15 turnovers before halftime, leading to a 13-point deficit, and hit just 14 of 31 free throws.
Dwight Howard, shooting a career-worst 48.5 percent from the line, was 3 of 14.
"We missed 17 free throws and you get beat by 11, you can do the math. And it doesn't add up," coach Mike D'Antoni told the NBA's official website. "You can't go 14 for 31 from the line and turn it over on the road and expect to win."
Kobe Bryant was assessed a technical foul on his way to the locker room at halftime, though it was rescinded Tuesday. Still, Bryant's 13 technicals lead the league, and three more will result in an automatic one-game suspension.
"I'm not concerned," said Bryant, averaging 27.0 points over his last nine games against Minnesota.
The Timberwolves (20-34) have looked lost for most of the season and continue to nosedive in the standings as they struggle with injuries.
Kirilenko limped off in the first quarter of Tuesday's 84-83 overtime loss at Phoenix after he strained his left calf. Kirilenko, who has played in the last four games after missing the previous five with a strained right quadriceps, is listed as questionable for Thursday.
Minnesota buried itself with another poor shooting performance against the Suns, hitting only 34.4 percent for its 13th sub-40.0 percent shooting game. The Timberwolves have been particularly bad from 3-point range, shooting an NBA-worst 30.0 percent.
"You've got to make plays in this league and we're going to have to learn how to make those plays," said coach Rick Adelman, whose team has lost three straight and 19 of 23. "It's as simple as that."
Bryant had 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 111-100 win at Minnesota on Feb. 1 as the Lakers claimed a 57-40 rebounding edge.
The Timberwolves' last win in the series - and only one in the last 24 meetings - was 117-107 in double overtime at home March 6, 2007.
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