Timberwolves-Lakers Preview

It’s been almost five years since the Los Angeles Lakers lost to
the Minnesota Timberwolves. If they are to continue their dominance
in the series, the Lakers might need to do it without Kobe
Bryant.

There’s also a chance the Timberwolves could be without their
best player in this contest.

A broken nose and concussion could keep Bryant out Wednesday
night when the Lakers look for a 17th consecutive victory over the
visiting Timberwolves and banged-up star Kevin Love.

The NBA’s leading scorer at 28.4 points per game, Bryant is day
to day after he was knocked to the floor hard by Miami’s Dwyane
Wade during Sunday’s NBA All-Star game. Bryant, who finished with
27 points and became the all-time leading scorer in All-Star
history, saw a neurologist Tuesday and will be re-evaluated prior
to the game. He’s played all 34 games this season despite dealing
with a torn ligament in his wrist.

“We’ll be prepared either way,” coach Mike Brown told the
Lakers’ official website. “I know he’s tough as nails, though.”

With or without Bryant, the Lakers (20-14) will return from the
break looking to bounce back from last Thursday’s 100-85 loss at
Western Conference leader Oklahoma City. Los Angeles is sixth in
the West, but only one game behind the Pacific Division-leading
Clippers.

“We still have things we have to figure out about how we’re
going to play and how we’re going to execute,” Bryant said.

The Lakers have had little trouble executing against Minnesota
(18-17), averaging 107.4 points during a 16-game winning streak
that dates to a 117-107 double-overtime road loss March 6, 2007.
Bryant has averaged 27.2 points during that streak, and had 35
points and 14 rebounds in a 106-101 victory at Minnesota on Jan.
29.

The 16 straight wins in this series are tied for the longest
active run of dominance by one NBA team over the other. Portland
has also defeated Minnesota 16 consecutive times.

While the Timberwolves would certainly catch a break if Bryant
is out, All-Star Andrew Bynum (16.3 points, 12.8 rebounds per game)
and Pau Gasol will still be on the floor. Gasol has totaled 53
points on 71.9 percent shooting in the last two meetings with
Minnesota.

The Timberwolves beat the Clippers 109-97 on Tuesday for their
fifth win in six games overall. Rookie Derrick Williams and Michael
Beasley each had 27 points as Minnesota shot 51.3 percent. The
Wolves’ bench outscored the Clippers reserves 72-11 in the first of
three road games in as many nights.

One-half game out of the final playoff spot in the West,
Minnesota surpassed its 2010-11 total of 17 wins Tuesday.

“We’re feeling good about ourselves,” said Williams, averaging
just 7.8 points after being selected second overall in last June’s
draft. “We’re getting two games in a row (at Staples Center). It’s
going to be great. It’s another team in our way.”

One possible road block facing the Timberwolves is the health of
former UCLA star Love (24.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg), who took a shot to the
ribs in the third quarter Tuesday and left the court. He returned
to the bench about 5 minutes into the fourth wearing a padded
shirt.

“I got it X-rayed and everything seems to be fine,” said Love,
who was held to 10 points for the second straight game and finished
with seven boards. “It’s going to have a lot of bruising and some
inflammation, but hopefully I’ll be good to go for
(Wednesday).”

Love had 33 points and 13 rebounds against the Lakers last
month.

The Timberwolves have dropped 10 straight at Staples Center
against the Lakers since a 113-108 win Dec. 2, 2005. Minnesota has
not beaten both the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles in the same
season since 2004-05.