Lakers-Timberwolves Preview

The Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers' lead for the Western Conference's final playoff spot is down to one game, but they could be facing the right opponent to end a three-game slide.

The Lakers have won 21 straight over the Minnesota Timberwolves heading into Wednesday night's matchup at the Target Center, although they will be without Metta World Peace.

Los Angeles (36-35) is enduring its longest skid since a four-game slide Jan. 17-23. The Lakers won 19 of 26 after that downturn before this current funk.

"We're trying to get into the playoffs right now. That's more of a disappointment," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "But we still have time to figure it out."

Los Angeles hasn't lost to Minnesota (25-44) since a 117-107 double-overtime road defeat March 6, 2007. The 21-game run is the longest current streak in the NBA of one opponent beating another and the second-longest ever for the Lakers, behind their 24-game streak over the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings between 1983-88.

The Lakers will be without World Peace, who injured his left knee in Monday's 109-103 loss at Golden State in the opener of this four-game trip. World Peace said he "felt fluid" in it, and he has been declared out indefinitely with a torn meniscus.

D'Antoni said he wasn't sure if World Peace would be back in the regular season. Jodie Meeks will start in his place Wednesday.

World Peace's absence at the defensive end could cause problems for Los Angeles, which allowed Golden State to make 10 of 23 3-pointers. The Lakers are allowing opponents to shoot 42.0 percent from beyond the arc in this slide.

"We just got to maintain our poise and just think about execution and what we're going to do," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 36 on Monday. "You got to look at what teams are doing against us in terms of spreading us out and rolling the big, and now we collapse and we're releasing the shooters. This is about the third game in a row that that's happened to us."

Minnesota may not be the type of team that can expose Los Angeles' perimeter defense. The Timberwolves are shooting an NBA-low 30.0 percent on 3s, although they made a season-high 14 on 26 attempts in Tuesday's 105-82 rout at Detroit.

"We were due for a night like this,'' reserve J.J. Barea said. "Our starters started getting hot, and we kept the flow going."

Barea matched a season high with 21 points as he made five 3-pointers while Nikola Pekovic needed less than 30 minutes to amass 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Lakers have used commanding rebounding advantages in their two victories over the Wolves this season. Los Angeles held a 57-40 edge on the glass despite playing without Dwight Howard in a 111-100 road win Feb. 1 and had a 49-35 cushion in a 116-94 victory Feb. 28.

The point guard matchup between 39-year-old Steve Nash and 22-year-old Ricky Rubio also bears watching. Nash has totaled 27 points and 14 assists in the first two matchups and Rubio 22 and 20.

Rubio, however, has not reached double digits in assists in seven straight games. He came close with nine of Minnesota's 26 against the Pistons.

"It was fun to have a game like this,'' Rubio said. "When shots are going in, it is easier to play."

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