With their teams rebuilding and their bodies betraying them, both Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have seen better days.
Garnett will likely miss the final meeting between the future Hall of Famers when Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers host the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night attempting to avoid a franchise-worst 11th consecutive loss.
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With the 39-year-old Garnett expected to sit out a fifth straight game with an ailing right knee, the historical relevance of this matchup of Western Conference cellar-dwellers will be solely focused on Los Angeles (9-41), which matched the Magic Johnson-coached 1993-94 squad’s club record of 10 straight losses with Sunday’s 101-82 defeat to visiting Charlotte.
The retiring Bryant delivered one of the better performances of his final season by scoring 23 points in 23 minutes, a small consolation in a game in which the Lakers shot 33.8 percent and were outrebounded 59-42.
Last in the NBA in field goal percentage (41.1) and 28th in scoring (95.8 points per game), Los Angeles has failed to even reach those benchmarks during the skid. The Lakers have averaged 92.2 points and shot 40.8 percent since a 95-91 win over New Orleans on Jan. 12.
"Sometimes, you’ve got to go to the bottom of the pool, man, and figure it out," Bryant said. "We’re almost there, gasping for air."
Bryant’s status is uncertain as well, with the 37-year-old listed as questionable with a shoulder injury that sidelined him two of the previous three games.
He and Garnett were teammates in nine All-Star Games from 1998-2007 and faced one another four times in the playoffs, including two NBA Finals. The Lakers bested Garnett’s Celtics in seven games in 2010 to avenge a six-game loss to Boston in 2008.
Neither aging superstar appears headed to this year’s postseason with the Lakers last in the West and Minnesota (14-35) tied with Phoenix for 13th. Both have spent much of their injury-plagued seasons serving as mentors to their future successors in the top two picks in the 2015 draft, Garnett to Karl-Anthony Towns and Bryant to D’Angelo Russell.
Towns leads all rookies with 25 double-doubles and has notched one in each of Minnesota’s four consecutive losses, with the 20-year-old following Friday’s season-high 32-point, 12-rebound effort at Utah with 21 and 13 in Sunday’s 96-93 defeat at Portland.
"It’s nice to lead the league in double-doubles for rookies, but I’d rather lead with wins," he said. "I’m not too happy about that."
Second-year guard Zach LaVine is on a productive run as well, averaging 22.3 points during the losing streak and recording a season-high 35 in Wednesday’s 126-123 loss to Golden State.
Russell’s transition hasn’t gone as smoothly and he’s struggled of late, shooting 31.8 percent and averaging 7.0 points off the bench in his last three.
The 19-year-old did score 23 points, and fellow youngster Julius Randle had 20 with 12 rebounds in a Dec. 9 matchup at Minnesota, though the Lakers couldn’t overcome Kevin Martin’s 37 points and Towns’ 26 and 14 rebounds in a 123-122 overtime loss.
Martin, who’ll miss a fifth straight game with an injured right wrist, had 23 points and Ricky Rubio amassed 28 and 14 assists in Minnesota’s 112-111 victory at Staples Center in the Oct. 28 opener.