Rising Timberwolves square off with Lakers
LOS ANGELES — The Minnesota Timberwolves will try to continue their best start in 14 years when they play the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Monday night.
The Timberwolves (20-13) have won three in a row and will be aiming for their first four-game road-winning streak since November 2015. Their best record through 33 games was 22-11 in the 2003-04 season.
“Just find ways to win,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said after Minnesota’s 115-106 victory at Phoenix on Saturday night. “This is a tough league. I know everyone says, ‘Well, you should win this game, you should win that game.’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how the league is.”
On paper, the Lakers (11-20) would appear to be one of those teams Minnesota should beat, particularly with Los Angeles guard Lonzo Ball due to miss the game because of a sprained left shoulder. Still, Los Angeles isn’t going down easily lately.
Eight of its past nine losses were by single digits, including two overtime home defeats to the defending NBA champion Warriors as well as a seven-point setback at Golden State on Friday night.
On Wednesday, the Lakers earned a 122-116 win at Houston. The Rockets own the best record in the NBA.
Lakers coach Luke Walton said his team would have more victories if it took better care of the minor details.
Los Angeles shot 12 for 20 from the free-throw line in a 95-92 loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. The Lakers continue to rank last in the NBA in foul shooting at 69.1 percent, and they are second worst in the league at 16.3 turnovers per game.
“Earlier in the year, I was telling our guys, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose, it’s how we’re playing, it’s building our habits,” Walton said. “They’ve set an expectation, a standard for themselves, that I now believe they are ready to win ballgames, and I thought (Saturday) night was one we let get away from us. It’s frustrating, but we’ll see how we bounce back on Christmas.”
Walton also expressed growing dissatisfaction with the officiating of his games.
“Every night, I hear different rules about what’s a foul and what’s not a foul,” he said. “It’s frustrating. We’re trying to teach this young team how to play and what to do and do it properly, and it just feels like every night it’s a different excuse on why we’re not getting calls.”
Minnesota entered this season with eight new players on the 15-man roster, and none has been more valuable than Jimmy Butler. He scored 32 points to lead six Minnesota players in double figures against the Suns, and he is averaging a team-high 20.6 points.
“You can’t say enough about what he has done for this team,” Thibodeau said. “He has changed everything for us.”
Butler’s skill is bolstered by his competitiveness.
“I don’t like to lose,” Butler said. “I have to be prepared to play and make plays for everybody, including myself.
Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns is second on the team at 20.5 points a game. He scored 40 points on 17-of-22 shooting and grabbed 21 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ 110-109 loss to the Lakers last April, the only 40-20 game of his career.
On Monday, the Lakers will play without Ball for the first time in the rookie’s career. The team announced that Ball will be evaluated in a week. He is averaging 10 points, 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game.