Lakers-Timberwolves Preview

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.”