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Weary Lakers face surging Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves were bound to be weary for their New Year's Day meeting at the Target Center with both teams traveling for the second game of a back-to-back set on Monday.
Los Angeles then played a marathon, double-overtime game in Houston on Sunday that lasted nearly three hours and saw starters Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Ennis play over 40 minutes apiece.
Already short-handed due to the absences of Brook Lopez (sprained right ankle) and rookie Lonzo Ball (sprained left shoulder), the Lakers may experience a tough time against the streaking Wolves.
"It's obviously frustrating, but we're very proud of the way we're (playing despite being) short-handed right now," Los Angeles coach Luke Walton said after his team's 148-142 loss to the Rockets on Sunday. "It would've been a lot easier to kind of just pack it in and individually go out and try to put up big numbers until we get healthy or until we get to an easier part of the schedule.
"Our guys really came together tonight and really played well for most of the game."
Minnesota earned its sixth win in seven games and ninth in a span of 12 games with a commanding 107-90 victory at Indiana on Sunday.
"We just moved the ball well and our defense was phenomenal," Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson said. "Everybody was just really in sync."
It will be the second holiday meeting in a week between the two teams. Minnesota beat the Lakers 121-104 at Los Angeles on Christmas Day. The loss was one of six straight for the Lakers heading into play Monday.
Ball missed his fourth consecutive game on Sunday, and he won't play against the Timberwolves.
Rookie Josh Hart scored a career-high 26 points against the Rockets, and Tyler Ennis filled in for Ball with a career-high 20 points and season-high 11 assists.
Julius Randle had 29 points, 15 rebounds and six assists on Sunday. Kuzma continued his strong season with 21 points.
"We were playing really aggressive in the first quarter and we picked up our defense," Randle said. "We were able to get stops and get out and run."
The Wolves are also short-handed with point guard Jeff Teague out indefinitely due to a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Jimmy Butler has dealt with an ankle injury but is leading Minnesota in its recent run. Butler had 26 points Sunday, his seventh consecutive game of at least 20 points.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in the Sunday win.
Of note for the Wolves against the Pacers was an improved defense. Minnesota scored the first 17 points and held a team under 100 points for the first time in eight games. Slowly, the Wolves' defense is showing positive signs.
"We made shots, they missed some they normally make, (it was) probably a combination of those two things," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They made a run at us. I think they got it down to five, but we built (the lead) back up."
Building leads in the fourth quarter had been troublesome for the Wolves this season. Minnesota's net rating in the fourth is minus-8.6, the second-worst mark in the NBA. However, the Wolves' net rating in the fourth over the past 15 games has been plus-1.9, the league's 14th-best mark over that stretch.
Updated January 1, 2018