Timberwolves celebrate Christmas with a win over Lakers
LOS ANGELES — Victories aren’t coming easy for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they seem to be a lot less stressful.
They continued their best start in 14 years with a 121-104 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Monday night.
The Lakers scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take an 84-83 lead, but the Timberwolves promptly followed with a 13-0 run that gave them their biggest lead through that point of the game.
Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns had two three-point plays and scored eight of his 21 points in the 13-0 run
“I’ve learned in my career, especially my rookie year, never get too high, never got too low,” Towns said. “I came in as, this is just another game for me to win. There’s nothing more to it, just stay calm stay within the game.”
The Lakers (11-21) pulled back within six points with 4:30 left, but the Timberwolves closed with a 16-5 run.
“I think for us, we just stay executing,” Towns said. “We stay in the zone and we don’t let anything detour us, so we did a great job tonight of getting the job done.”
Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler led the Timberwolves with 23 points apiece. Jamal Crawford contributed 19 points off the bench for Minnesota (21-13), which shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the floor.
The previous best 34-game start for the Timberwolves was 23-11 in the 2003-04 season.
Kyle Kuzma made 6 of 11 3-pointers and scored 31 points to lead the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson added 17 points and Julius Randle scored 16 off the bench.
Kuzma joined LeBron James as the only NBA rookies to score at least 30 points on Christmas.
“I’m just hitting shots,” Kuzma said. “Just trying to focus on that, and my shots are going in.”
Los Angeles played without three starters, rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, second-year small forward Brandon Ingram and veteran center Brook Lopez.
Ball injured his left shoulder against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday and an MRI revealed a sprain that will sideline him at least a week. Ingram missed his second straight game with a right quad contusion and left quad tendinitis, and Lopez his fourth straight with a sprained ankle.
“We did well until things got really tough, which is kind of the most important time to stay within the system,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “That’s a good defensive team. They’re well-coached, obviously. They stepped up their defensive pressure, their intensity, and made it harder for us to move the ball, but in times like that, that’s when you have to use a team’s aggressiveness against them.”
The Lakers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to twice take the lead before halftime. Butler’s driving layup with nine seconds left gave Minnesota a 53-52 lead it took to the locker room.
Butler made his first seven shots and scored 17 points in the first half on 8-for-10 shooting.
Clarkson missed his first seven shots, but rebounded to make five of his final six of the first half.
The Timberwolves maintained the lead throughout the third quarter, stretching it to as much as nine before taking an 83-80 advantage into the fourth.
“For most of the game, I thought we did a nice job of moving that ball,” Walton said. “We had a lot of really good looks tonight that just didn’t go in. You get really good looks from teammates drawing defenders and kicking you the ball. ... Shots were rimming out on us all night and we were still able to keep it close.”
NOTES: The Lakers’ starting lineup of Jordan Clarkson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Andrew Bogut had played zero minutes together prior to Monday’s game. The Timberwolves’ starting lineup of Taj Gibson, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler had played the most minutes together in the NBA coming into the game. ... None of the starting five for the Lakers on Monday night started the season opener. ... The Lakers have played in 19 straight games on Christmas, while the Timberwolves were making their second all-time appearance. ... Minnesota improved to 10-7 on the road and is one of four teams in the Western Conference with winning records on the road (Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers).