MINNEAPOLIS — The flickering hopes of challenging for a playoff spot were doused by a grueling stretch of road games for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minnesota begins a three-game homestand against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday with only the possibility of improvement on last season remaining. Los Angeles is heading toward another high pick in the NBA Draft with the league’s second-worst record.
Two of the NBA’s youngest teams are all too familiar with their current position: playing out the string in the season’s final weeks.
The Timberwolves finished a stretch of seven of nine games on the road with a come-from-behind, 115-114 victory at Indiana on Tuesday.
“We did a great job of staying together, regardless of what was happening in the game,” Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We felt that we had a chance the whole time. … We did a great job at the end of executing.”
Positivity has been fleeting recently for the Timberwolves.
They had won three home games in a row, all against playoff teams, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards. But Minnesota lost six straight games before Tuesday’s win. Six of the seven games were on the road.
Still, the Timberwolves matched last season’s win total at 29-44 by beating the Pacers. Point guard Ricky Rubio hit three free throws with 3.4 seconds left to take the lead, and Indiana missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“That moment is the reason you work in the arena by yourself shooting hundreds of free throws,” said Rubio, who had 21 points, 10 assists and was a career-best 13 of 13 from the foul line. “You want to have moments like that, to feel that pressure. It’s hard to do it at the end of the game.”
Following the three-game homestand, Minnesota finishes the season with five of six games on the road.
Los Angeles’ season also has collapsed at the end, though the Lakers were never in position to challenge for the playoffs after November. Like the Timberwolves, Los Angeles (21-53) is trying to find optimism.
For three quarters, the Lakers were handling Washington on Tuesday. Then John Wall and the Wizards took over in the fourth quarter to win in Los Angeles.
“We were playing unselfish,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “It was beautiful and a lot of fun to watch. Then, unfortunately, the fourth quarter started with us missing some open looks that we had been hitting. Then we had a couple turnovers. (Washington) picked the pressure up … and they cut into that lead without really even having to get hot.”
D’Angelo Russell scored 20 of his 28 points in the first half, and Jordan Clarkson finished with 22 points. Tyler Ennis, one of the young players getting a late-season opportunity, had 11 points.
Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, taken three spots ahead of Minnesota rookie point guard Kris Dunn in last summer’s draft, missed the Tuesday game due to right patellar tendinitis, and he is questionable for the Thursday game.
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