Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives against Wolves guard Ricky Rubio during… (Craig Lassig / EPA )
The Lakers (28-30) will host the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34) on Thursday night at Staples Center.
The Wolves have been decimated all year with injuries, most notably to Kevin Love and Brandon Roy. They've lost three in a row and eight of their last 10.
Earlier in the month, the Lakers defeated the Wolves in Minnesota 111-100 in what was one of Pau Gasol's best games of the season. Dwight Howard sat out with a re-aggravated shoulder (torn labrum), pushing Gasol into the starting lineup at center.
While Gasol scored 22 points with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots, he's three weeks into a 6-to-8 week recovery with a foot injury (torn plantar fascia). Howard will get his first crack at the Wolves on Thursday night.
Earlier in the season, Howard noted that Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic would be an elite Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. Pekovic, who is listed at 6'11", 290 pounds, has averaged 16 points and nine rebounds a game for the Timberwolves.
While Pekovic isn't necessarily a lock-down defender in the post, his size and strength could be a challenge for Howard.
The Lakers haven't played since Monday. Howard is still working his way back from last year's back surgery. Extra days off tend to do him well.
Howard is averaging 16.3 points with 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game. The Lakers are just a better team when Howard is playing at his best.
Rookie guard Alexey Shved hit five three-pointers against the Lakers on Feb. 1. Shved has a quick trigger and doesn't need a lot of room to get his shot off on the perimeter.
For the season he's averaging 10.3 points and 4.2 assists game while shooting just 30.4% from behind the arc. Perhaps his last performance was a fluke — the Wolves are not a good three-point shooting team — but Minnesota gave the Lakers a scare behind Shved's big night.
Antawn Jamison has been a consistent offensive presence off the bench for the Lakers after a slow start to the season. Against the Wolves, Jamison outscored Kobe Bryant by a point with 18.
The Lakers need help from other teams to make it into the playoffs. The Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors all lost on Wednesday.
A loss to the Wolves on Thursday would be a significant setback . . .
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.