Wolves lose to Lakers, playoff hopes dwindle
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly everything about this season has been a grueling challenge for the Los Angeles Lakers, so nobody in a gold jersey really seemed surprised when Anthony Davis committed a baffling foul that allowed Minnesota’s Mike Conley to snatch a playoff berth from their hands with 0.1 seconds on the regulation clock.
The Lakers simply absorbed the latest body blow to their championship hopes and played on.
Five overtime minutes later, they finally claimed a postseason berth that seemed all but unattainable just a couple of months ago.
LeBron James had 30 points and 10 rebounds, and the Lakers snagged the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs with a 108-102 victory over the short-handed Timberwolves in the NBA’s play-in tournament Tuesday night.
Conley hit three clutch free throws to tie it after Davis foolishly fouled him on a 3-point attempt, but the Lakers coolly kept rolling toward their 10th win in 12 games overall. Their reward is a date with the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round starting Sunday.
“It took everything out of us to get to where we are, and it took more out of us tonight,” Davis said. “But we’ve got a couple of days before we go to Memphis to start preparing for them. It’s been a battle. It’s been an up-and-down season for us, but now is the time to show who we are, and we showed it tonight.”
Dennis Schröder scored 21 points, drilling a tiebreaking 3-pointer on a pass from James with 1.4 seconds left in regulation before icing the win with two free throws with 8.4 seconds left for the Lakers, who started the season 2-10 and sat six games below .500 at the trade deadline.
“Once you get to the end of things, to have everyone healthy, to be playing in the type of rhythm we’re playing in, to defend at the level that we’re defending at, going into the most important time of the year, you can’t ask for a better situation,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
The Wolves still forced overtime when Conley hit his free throws after Davis stepped on his foot after he had already released a 3-point attempt. Davis and James said they had a mix-up about who was supposed to defend the shooter in the corner.
“The play was between me and AD, and we discussed it on the bench, and then we moved forward,” James said. “We’ve still got five more minutes to play. That’s how we started overtime. We was able to recalibrate. Get our game back.”
Instead of getting down, the Lakers went back to work.
“That was totally on me,” said Davis, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds. “He faded out of bounds where I was going. But it goes back to next-play mentality, and we got it done in overtime.”
Los Angeles finally won it with defense, holding the Wolves to seven points in the final 11 minutes from midway through the fourth quarter while rallying from a 15-point deficit.
Conley scored 23 points for Minnesota, which gave an inspired effort for the first three quarters while playing without starters Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels. Gobert is suspended for punching teammate Kyle Anderson during Minnesota’s regular-season finale against New Orleans, while McDaniels is out indefinitely with a broken hand after punching a wall in frustration Sunday.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24 points for the Wolves, who will host New Orleans or Oklahoma City on Friday for the eighth spot and a first-round date with top-seeded Denver beginning Sunday.
The Pelicans host the Thunder on Wednesday night, and Minnesota must then beat the winner to reach the playoffs for only the third time in 19 seasons.
“We expected to win this game,” Conley said. “It’s disappointing to lose. We had a lead and let it slip. This should be a different postgame speech. … We’ve just got to be mentally and physically more engaged at the end, and we’ve got a couple of days to work on it.”
After leading for most of the night, Minnesota went scoreless for six full minutes in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles began its comeback after Towns had to sit with his fifth foul, and it took the lead for good on a 3-pointer on the opening possession of OT by Rui Hachimura, who had 12 points.
The Wolves missed 11 consecutive shots before Anthony Edwards’ dunk with 2:36 left in overtime. Edwards scored just nine points — more than 15 below his average — and left the court briefly in the second half to get tape on his left shoulder after taking an early fall.
Schröder stepped up tremendously for D’Angelo Russell, who had a nightmare game for Los Angeles against the team that traded him in February. Russell had eight assists, but scored two points on 1-of-9 shooting before getting benched down the stretch.
Timberwolves: McDaniels attended the game. … A minor confrontation after the first-quarter buzzer ended with technical fouls for Edwards and Hachimura.
Lakers: Schröder returned from a two-game injury absence. … Tristan Thompson and Shaq Harrison were in uniform for the first time after signing last Sunday. Neither veteran played.
Timberwolves: Host Pelicans or Thunder on Friday.
Lakers: At Grizzlies on Sunday.