Is Lakers' streak next to fall?

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2012 - 5:59 AM

In a season of stopped skids, L.A.'s 17-game run is the next target.

One by one the Timberwolves have evened the score.

Maybe that's too strong, because making things even will take some time. But the Wolves have, at least, stopped the bleeding.

New Year's Day was a tuneup. The Wolves beat Dallas at home for the first time in nine tries. The next night the Wolves ended a 16-game losing streak to the San Antonio Spurs. Saturday in Portland the Wolves beat the Blazers for the first time in 17 tries. Wednesday they did it again, for good measure. Already the Wolves, who had won just one of 15 games vs. Houston dating to 2007, have won the season series vs. the Rockets 3-1.

And now: the Los Angeles Lakers.

If this is a season of busting losing streaks, this is the biggest. The Lakers, who play the Wolves at Target Center on Friday, have beaten the Wolves 17 consecutive times.

"I think the guys are aware of that," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after Thursday's practice. "It seems to me it might be best not to know that. So when we do it, it's a surprise."

Oh, the players know it. How could they not? Nobody on the team's roster has beaten the Lakers while wearing a Wolves jersey. The last Minnesota victory came in double overtime back in 2007, with Ricky Davis and Kevin Garnett leading the way.

So it's been a while.

It's not a huge surprise, given the Lakers' winning history and the Wolves' near-historic lack of victories in recent seasons. And then there is a fellow named Kobe Bryant, who has scored more than 30 in both games vs. the Wolves this season and has 30 or more in six of the past 17 games vs. Minnesota.

"They're a bad matchup for a lot of teams," said Jim Petersen, the former NBA player now working the team's TV broadcasts for FSN. "When people look at championship teams, they always want to look at how they do against other championship-caliber teams during the season. The real telltale sign, I think, is how they do against teams they should beat. Kobe Bryant's Lakers always have taken care of business against teams they should beat. They don't play down to their competition."

But could this year be different? The Wolves appear to have changed. This season the team is 9-2 vs. Portland (2-0), Houston (3-1), Dallas (2-1) and San Antonio (2-0), teams that had a combined 57-2 record vs. Minnesota the past four seasons.

Time to clear another hurdle?

"I think it is," forward Kevin Love said. "Take Portland. That has become just another game for me. Maybe we have extra incentive for beating the Lakers. And maybe we put a little extra pressure on ourselves because of it."

Interestingly, the Wolves have lost by an average of 11.6 points in nine losses in L.A. during the streak but by an average of 13 points in eight home losses.

The Wolves nearly broke the streak Jan. 29 at Target Center. Down 18 in the third quarter, the Wolves rallied and led, for the last time, 94-93 with 3:19 left in the game. But a pair of dunks by center Andrew Bynum and a jumper from Pau Gasol gave the Lakes the lead, and Bryant made sure it stood up. With Love sick, the Lakers handed the Wolves their worst loss of the season, 104-85, in L.A. on Feb. 29.

"I think we have to change our mentality against them," said guard J.J. Barea, who was part of a Dallas team that knocked L.A. out of the playoffs last season. "You see the Lakers and you think it's going to be another [loss]. You have to change that. And somebody has to step up on Kobe."

The matchups are tough. Every team struggles against Bryant, and the Wolves have struggled of late with 7-footers Bynum and Gasol.

But is now the time? The Lakers (23-16) are 6-14 on the road and are coming off consecutive road losses, including a collapse in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. They figure to be a surly bunch, but also beatable.

And a victory would be another step for an improving Wolves team.

"We have the Lakers two more times this season," swingman Martell Webster said. "If we can get two wins, it would turn the tide a little bit."

Said guard Wes Johnson: "With the Lakers, the history is there. But you have to play them like we just played Portland. If we do that, I think we'll be fine."

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