• The Lakers (34-44) and Timberwolves (44-35) face off Friday night at Staples Center.

    Prior to the game, the Lakers will unveil an Elgin Baylor statue to honor the Hall of Fame forward — a tribute to better times in Laker land. Baylor, an 11-time NBA All-Star and 10-time All-NBA first team member, averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game during his illustrious career.

    Minnesota has lost two games in a row, including a four-point loss to the Denver Nuggets Thursday night. The loss leaves the Timberwolves and Nuggets tied for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings, making tonight’s game a must-win for Minnesota.

    The Timberwolves will welcome back leading scorer Jimmy Butler for tonight’s game after he missed the previous 17 games with a knee injury. For the season he is averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game. His return could not come at a better time as Minnesota is approaching must-win territory and cannot rely too heavily on starting point guard Jeff Teague, who is also battling his own sore knee, returning for their last contest and posting 15 points and six assists.

    The key to this game will likely be the battle of the frontcourt players where Minnesota boasts Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson and Andrew Wiggins. Although people will likely focus on the battle of former Kentucky big men Towns and Laker power forward Julius Randle, Taj Gibson has been a major factor against the Lakers this year. In the Timberwolves February 15 win against the Lakers, Gibson went off for 28 points, eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks on 11-of-16 shooting.

    Towns, one of the league’s most talented young centers, is averaging 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 85.8 percent from the charity stripe. However, the Lakers have done a sound job defensively against Towns this season, holding him to 15.7 points and 47.1 percent shooting during their three previous matchups. He has been able to contribute in other areas, though, contributing 13.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.3 blocks per game.

    Los Angeles is coming off an impressive overtime win against the San Antonio, clinching a season-sweep against the Spurs. The Lakers got a tremendous performance from rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, who tallied 30 points, five rebounds, one steal and five 3-pointers. Kuzma took the game over in the extra period, draining a long 3-pointer and a running hook shot to stake the Lakers to a lead that they would not relinquish.

    The Lakers also received huge contributions from their bench unit in that contest, including 19 unexpected points from Channing Frye, who led a bench brigade that all earned positive ratings for the game. If Los Angeles is to help spoil the Timberwolves evening, they will need Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Josh Hart to provide a similar lift.

    Minnesota will be fighting for their playoff life and the chance to end a 14-year playoff drought — tonight will be a challenging game for the Lakers.

    Key Stats

    -One large differentiating element between these two teams is free throw shooting with the Timberwolves converting 80.5 percent of their attempts (second) vs. the Lakers who shoot only 70.8 percent (30th).

    -Minnesota also does a much better job of taking care of the basketball, turning the ball over 12.5 times per game (second) in contrast to Los Angeles who averages 15.7 miscues per game (28th).

    – The Lakers average 46.3 rebounds per game (second) compared to 41.8 rebounds per game (25th) for the Timberwolves. However, that disparity is somewhat inflated due to pace of play as the two teams are closer in rebounding percentage with Los Angeles securing 50.8 percent of available rebounds (ninth) vs. 50.1 percent (17th) for Minnesota.

    -Considering Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is known as a defensive coach, Minnesota is surprisingly poor on that end with a defensive rating of 108.8 (25th). The Lakers, in comparison, have shown significant growth defensively, earning a 105.6 defensive rating (13th).

    -The Timberwolves have excelled on the offensive side of the ball with an offensive rating of 110.6 (fourth) while the Lakers have been in the bottom third of the NBA with an offensive rating of 104.4 (20th).

    Projected Starting Lineups

    Lakers

    Alex Caruso (PG)

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)

    Kyle Kuzma (SF)

    Julius Randle (PF)

    Brook Lopez (C)

    Timberwolves

    Jeff Teague (PG)

    Jimmy Butler (SG)

    Andrew Wiggins (SF)

    Taj Gibson (PF)

    Karl-Anthony Towns (C)

    Injury Report

    Lakers

    Brook Lopez (back) – PROBABLE

    Brandon Ingram (concussion) – OUT

    Lonzo Ball (knee contusion) – OUT

    Isaiah Thomas (hip) – OUT

    Luol Deng (ankle) – OUT

    Timberwolves

    None

    Broadcast Information

    Time: 7:30 PM PST, 10:30 PM EST

    Television: SPECSN/SPECD, FOX SPORTS NORTH, NBA TV CANADA, NBA TV

    Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, 830 WCCO

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