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LOS ANGELES - In a season when the Timberwolves can blame everything from bad knees and knuckle pushups to a family emergency for a year gone so wrong, here's one more comparatively little thing to add to the list:
The NBA schedule.
Couldn't the Timberwolves have faced the Los Angeles Lakers two or three times in November and December, when the 16-time NBA champs struggled to find both themselves and a coach?
Instead, Thursday's 116-94 loss nationally televised by TNT was their second in February -- and the second of all three games between the teams in February and March -- against rejuvenated Kobe Bryant and a Lakers team that now has won four of its past five games to keep the West's eighth and final playoff spot in sight.
"Just our luck," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said of his team's sense of timing.
The Wolves started Thursday's game with yet another starter -- small forward Andrei Kirilenko -- injured, and then they lost center Nikola Pekovic in the first quarter to an abdominal strain against an opponent that features big Dwight Howard in the middle.
"We just didn't have enough tonight," Adelman said afterward, referring perhaps both to his team's energy and number of healthy players.
The Wolves have not beaten the Lakers now since Kevin Garnett played for them. Thursday's loss was their 21st consecutive to the Lakers, a streak that dates to 2007.
Bryant has brought the Lakers back from the Western Conference's depths and into a chase behind Houston for that last playoff spot by becoming both a facilitator as well as that scorer who has been among the league's leaders annually.
On Thursday, he clearly reverted to his more comfortable role as scorer. He scored 31 of his 33 points by midway through the third quarter on a night when Derrick Williams started on him and Ricky Rubio spent most of the game attempting to defend him.
"He's one of the greatest," said Rubio, who came within two rebounds of a triple-double (13 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds). "He shows it every night. He's one of the greatest not only right now but ever. He's great."
The Lakers led from start to finish and by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter.
Adelman started Dante Cunningham for Kirilenko, who sustained a strained calf in Tuesday's overtime loss at Phoenix, and then lost Pekovic after only nine minutes.
Each is the type of injury that could keep both players out for Saturday's trip-ending game at Portland and beyond.
"I've never seen anything like this," Adelman said. "It's not just getting injuries because when guys do start trickling back, they've never played together. We have no rhythm as a team and we're just trying to fit people in. It's been horrendous. I've never seen anything like it because it's not just one guy, it's two or three guys. It has been really frustrating.
"But give our guys credit. They still trying to fight through it, but after a while it gets really old."
Without Kirilenko, the Wolves went with a tag-team frontcourt combo of Cunningham and Williams.
Adelman started out the night asking Williams, a natural power forward, to defend the game's greatest shooting guard. He soon gave that job to Rubio and then later went to zone after Pekovic was lost in an attempt to combat Howard's physical presence.
"You just have to do what you have to do," Williams said after a 15-point, eight-rebound game. "No questions asked. Coach tells you what to do, you just have to do it. I was guarding Kobe and Luke [Ridnour] was guarding Earl Clark and Ron Artest [Metta World Peace] pretty much the whole game. With the lineups we have and people we have, you've got to do things like that. It's going to be tough on all of us."
Both, of course, were overmatched for completely different reasons.
Without Pekovic, backup center Chris Johnson -- signed out of the D League in January -- saw his most extensive playing time since a Jan. 25 game at Washington.
Johnson began the second half with the other four starters.
Adelman turned to the zone in the second half to help Johnson with Howard. When he did, the Lakers simply continued to hit from the outside like they did in the first half. They made eight of 16 three pointers before halftime, and exactly eight of 16 after it.
"We tried to help and surround him [Howard], but that opened shooting for them," Adelman said. "It's like damned if you do, damned if you don't."
By winning, the Lakers moved within two games of that final playoff spot, one night after they sat idle at home and watch three other contenders -- Houston, Utah and Golden State -- all lose.
Someone asked Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni before Thursday's game if he felt lucky to see the Lakers gain ground on a night they didn't play.
"A little bit early to say lucky," D'Antoni said.
D'Antoni is the guy who replaced fired Mike Brown after the season's opening, tumultuous 10 games, the guy who now is trying to fit aging stars Bryant and Steve Nash as well as Howard into a caffeinated system he has always favored while Pau Gasol's foot heals on the sidelines.
"These guys in there have heard it all," D'Antoni said when asked if he has broken down the rest of the season into smaller segments that he feels his team must win. "We have to win tonight. Then we have to win the next game. We just have to win every game. We have to win 'em all."