The Los Angeles Lakers' longest road trip of the season might be the start of Kobe Bryant's farewell tour, but coach Byron Scott has used it as a chance to mold some of his youngest players.
The last-place Lakers will continue to build through their biggest star's goodbye on Wednesday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are experiencing their own growing pains.
Bryant announced his plans to retire following this season just before an eight-game, 12-day trip to open December. While the window on Bryant's 20-year career closes with adoration from opposing fans showering in, the Lakers (3-18) have opened the trip 1-4.
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Their third straight loss was Monday's 102-93 defeat in Toronto, and while Bryant scored a team-high 21 points, second-year forward Julius Randle and rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell made their contributions from the bench.
Randle, drafted seventh in 2014, and Russell, this year's second overall pick, started the first 20 games but were replaced by Larry Nance Jr. and Lou Williams, respectively.
''Those two still have to understand how to play this game and it's a tough game,'' Scott said. ''They're young, and they're a big part of our future, no doubt about that, but I still think at this point of their career you can still learn some things by sitting there watching as well.''
The change brought a similar result as Los Angeles lost for the 10th time in 11 games. Russell finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. Randle fared better with 15 points and 11 rebounds, the same numbers he held in Sunday's 111-91 loss at Detroit.
Randle also went for 15 and 11 in a season-opening 112-111 loss to Minnesota, which opened with four wins in six games. But the Timberwolves (8-12) are mired in their second four-game losing streak since, the most recent one following three victories in a row.
Minnesota has found ways to lose late while dropping its four games by 21 points combined, the last three to open a four-game homestand.
That was the case again in Monday's 110-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Zach LaVine scored six of his 21 points during an 8-2 run for a 98-95 lead with a minute to play, but the Clippers regained the lead eight seconds later and sealed the game at the free-throw line.
The Timberwolves' last eight losses and 10 of 12 on the season have come by 10 points or fewer. Seven of those have come at Target Center, where Minnesota is 2-9.
“This year, we're disappointed with our record at home, but we've been in every game,” interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “I ask my guys after every game, if one of them learns something… then the loss was worth it because they grew tonight.”
LaVine isn't sure he agrees.
“I'd rather not learn something and get the win,” he said.
Andrew Wiggins struggled to a season-low eight points on 3-of-15 shooting against the Clippers. He has made 9 of 30 shots in his last two games.
Bryant scored 24 in the season opener at Staples Center on 24 shots, while Williams added 21. Ricky Rubio finished with 28 points and 14 assists for Minnesota.
The Lakers won the previous three meetings in this series, including two at Target Center.