While the reeling Los Angeles Lakers aren’t getting the chance to see their top draft pick, the depleted Minnesota Timberwolves are at least giving some young talent an opportunity to grow.
The two worst teams in the Western Conference meet Friday night with the Lakers hoping to avoid their fifth consecutive home loss and the Timberwolves trying to avert their fifth straight defeat on the road.
Los Angeles (3-12), mired in the worst start in franchise history, suffered its third straight defeat and fell to 1-7 at Staples Center with Wednesday’s 99-93 loss to Memphis.
Kobe Bryant finished with 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting, dropping his field-goal percentage to 37.9. Nick Young hasn’t been able to find his touch either, totaling 25 points while missing 25 of 33 shots over his past three.
The Lakers are shooting 38.7 percent from the field, including 16 of 71 (22.5 percent) from 3-point range, during their home losing streak. That certainly hasn’t helped them finish out games, as they lost for the sixth time by seven points or fewer.
”I don’t see them as wasted opportunities," guard Jeremy Lin said. "There are going to be rough times, and as long as we learn, which I think we really are doing, I think we’ll be able to use these losses and turn them into something better.”
Los Angeles, though, isn’t getting the chance to groom seventh overall pick Julius Randle, who suffered a broken leg in the opener. Second-year forward Ryan Kelly is also out with a torn hamstring.
As a result of their own injury woes, the Timberwolves (3-10) are giving valuable minutes to several young players during the team’s worst start since opening 1-15 in 2009.
Top overall pick Andrew Wiggins is averaging 19.0 points in more than 37 minutes per game over his last three – though he’s shot just 36.0 percent.
Fellow lottery pick Zach LaVine finished with 12 points Wednesday, but had three turnovers and five fouls in a starting role with Ricky Rubio (ankle) and Mo Williams (illness) sidelined in a 103-86 home loss to Milwaukee.
"It’s a learning process, no question. (And) it’s a learning process with Zach," coach Flip Saunders said. "He made some mistakes. He made some plays. We just have to keep on working with him."
Second-year center Gorgui Dieng started his fourth straight game in place of the injured Nikola Pekovic, while Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad are playing key roles off the bench.
The injury-plagued Wolves are also without Kevin Martin (fractured right wrist) and former Laker Ronny Turiaf (sore hip).
”We’ve got a lot of guys playing roles they’re not accustomed to playing,” Saunders said.
Thaddeus Young made his return to the lineup after missing five games to mourn the death of his mother. He’s hoping to bounce back after missing his first eight shots and finishing with three points.
Saunders’ club has struggled defensively all season, allowing 109.7 points per game and league highs in defensive field-goal percentage (50.8) and 3-point percentage (42.6). Only the Lakers are giving up more points per game at 110.8.
Bryant has averaged 27.9 points while winning his last 21 meetings with Minnesota. He did not play due to injury when the Timberwolves took three of four in last season’s series.