Preview: Wolves at Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- The Minnesota Timberwolves cannot afford anymore losses if they hope to reach the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
The Timberwolves face a must-win situation Friday when they visit the Los Angeles Lakers.
Consecutive losses have dropped Minnesota (44-35) into the middle of an extremely tight race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Minnesota fell to eighth in the West after losing at the Denver Nuggets 100-96 on Thursday night.
The loss at Denver occurred four days after a 121-97 rout by the Utah Jazz at Minnesota.
"We've got to do better," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the latest loss.
The Nuggets are also 44-35, but Minnesota holds the tiebreaker because they've won two of three in the head-to-head matchup so far. The teams also meet in the regular-season finale on Wednesday in Minnesota.
In the meantime, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans are each 44-34, one game in front of the Timberwolves and Nuggets with three games remaining.
Big-time help for Minnesota should be on the way, however.
Thibodeau said Thursday night there's a good chance leading scorer Jimmy Butler returns after missing the past 17 games with a knee injury. The four-time All Star is averaging 22.2 points.
Jeff Teague also returned against Denver after missing the Utah game with a sore knee and he finished with 15 points and six assists in 36 minutes.
Derrick Rose also returned after missing the previous six games with an ankle injury but totaled just four points in 15 minutes and didn't record and assist or rebound.
"We need everyone," Thibodeau said. "Everyone has to step up now. We need everyone's best. We've got to play great intensity on every play."
Minnesota is 12-13 against Western Conference opponents on the road this season. They won their only other game against the Lakers at Staples Center this season, a 121-104 victory on Christmas.
The Lakers (34-44) can play spoiler for the second consecutive game.
They knocked off the Spurs 122-112 in overtime on Wednesday to keep San Antonio just inside the playoff bubble while also ending the Spurs' chances at 50 wins for an 18th consecutive season.
Rookie Kyle Kuzma continues to be one of the brightest lights for the Lakers this season.
He scored 26 points in a 117-110 loss at the Jazz on Tuesday, then came back the following night and scored 30 in against the Spurs.
Kuzma has four 30-point games this season, the most by a Los Angeles rookie since Magic Johnson in 1979-80. He already became the first NBA rookie to record at least 1,200 points, 450 rebounds and 150 3-pointers in a season.
"It's fun watching him compete at that level," Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after Los Angeles completed the first season sweep of the Spurs since 1997-98.
Lonzo Ball was expected to be the most valuable rookie for the Lakers this season, but he's missed the past four games with a left knee contusion and likely won't play against the Timberwolves. He's missed 26 games overall this season due to injury.
Brandon Ingram, the second-leading scorer for Los Angeles at 16.2 points, missed the past three games because he was in the NBA concussion protocol and his status also remains in doubt for Friday.