The first of a five-game homestand for the Lakers began with a significant contest on Friday night against the talented and athletic Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the three teams ahead of L.A. in the chase for a spot in the play-in tournament.
The Lakers will play this stretch without LeBron James, who will be reevaluated in three weeks after it was announced on Thursday that the forward has a right foot tendon injury. The Lakers also didn’t have starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, who missed his fourth straight game with a right ankle sprain.
But the Lakers did get back Anthony Davis after he missed Wednesday night’s game at Oklahoma City because the team was taking precautionary measures with his right foot stress injury.
Davis did his part with 38 points on 12-of-22 shooting, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Lakers from losing 110-102 to the Timberwolves at Crypto.com Arena.
Davis had just five rebounds and he turned the ball over six times.
Rudy Gobert had a double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds and Anthony Edwards had 19 points for the Timberwolves (33-32).
But when the game was close, it was Michael Conley who stood out for the Timberwolves.
The Lakers had trimmed a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to three points.
But Conley made a three-pointer and a right-handed floater late to help stop the Lakers’ rally.
The Lakers (30-34) remained in the 11th spot in the Western Conference after the loss, one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said they are aware of where they stand in the race for a top-10 spot in the West.
“But I mean, I tell the team, ‘The first order of business is to take care of our own business.’ It doesn’t matter what the standings say if we’re letting games slip away or not doing what we need to do to make sure we’re in a position to take advantage of an opportunity,” Ham said. “So, that’s the biggest thing for us. We just need to focus on our business and everything else will fall into place like it should.”
It won’t be easy for the Lakers without James.
He has started his rehabilitation, doing all he can to get back into the Lakers lineup to help them in their quest to at least reach the play-in games.
“There is no update and his situation is what it is,” Ham said. “And if it wasn’t for him and his play, we wouldn’t be this close to have a chance to improve going forward.
“So, just want him to take his time and be aligned with the medical staff and do what he needs to do to get back as quickly as possible. …We have to step up, all of us.”
The Lakers will get Russell back sooner than James, but when that will happen remains uncertain.
Russell started some “play groups” on Friday, Ham said, and still is working his way back.
“We don’t want to have a guy go from not playing an NBA game to throwing him back out there,” Ham said. “There are steps such as play groups that we have to see how he responds to that, how his body responds, specifically his ankle. So, we’ll go through that, and he’s in the process of doing all of that.”
Unfortunately for Russell, he missed playing against his former team.
The Lakers acquired Russell from Minnesota to be their starting point guard.
But his new Lakers teammates, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, both played on the Timberwolves’ team that made the playoffs last season with Russell.
Beasley and Vanderbilt were traded to the Jazz last summer, and they were acquired by the Lakers last month.
Beasley finished with 15 points on five-for-11 shooting and three-for-six on three-pointers.
Vanderbilt had eight points on three-for-five shooting and five rebounds.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.