Will Lakers have letdown against Minnesota?

Lakers (20-26) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-25)

Where: Target Center

When: 6:30 p.m. PST

TV: ESPN, Time Warner Cable SportsNet/Time Warner Cable Deportes

MINNEAPOLIS – It appears the Lakers have just the opponent they need to stop the road struggles.

They beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 19 consecutive times and have swept them in each of the past five seasons. Minnesota has lost five consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. The Timberwolves rank 22nd in total offense (94.62 points per game), 26th in field-goal percentage (43.1) and 18th in total defense (96.81).

Sounds like an easy win, right?

That’s exactly the same thing said when the Lakers began their seven-game trip Wednesday in a loss to the Phoenix Suns.

“I don’t think this team has played that team ever before,” “Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of the current Lakers and Timberwolves. “There’s an Italian superstition I can’t do here that wards off evils.”

Nothing seems guaranteed for these Lakers, who have lost eight consecutive road games and have gone 5-16 overall. It also doesn’t help that Dwight Howard will sit out tonight because of a sore right shoulder that prompted him to fly to Los Angeles Friday to receive a platelet rich plasma (PRP) procedure. The Lakers are 0-3 without Howard in the lineup.

Pau Gasol will start in his place at center, while Metta World Peace will mix between small forward and backup center to defend the 281-pound, 6’11” Nikola Pekovic.

“Big news,” Gasol said with an obvious hint of sarcasm. “Headlines. Exciting.”
That’s because Gasol has come off the bench in the past six games. D’Antoni even sat him for the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ win Tuesday over New Orleans because he wanted a smaller lineup. D’Antoni even joked he considered starting Robert Sacre, a second-round draft pick, over Gasol.
“I’m sure he wants to start and knows he wants to start,” D’Antoni said. “I just have to coach the team the way I think is better. It’s a not a personality conflict. It’s not a dance contest. I like him.”
Whatever the case, the Lakers need wins. Plenty of them.

“I’m past the cringing part,” Bryant said. “I moved more toward the excitement role of taking down this challenge a little bit.”

Bryant will take on that challenge by trying to have a better balance between embracing his new facilitating role without compromising his scoring. After averaging 12 assists in the past four games, Bryant (5,664 assists) surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,660) for the most assists among the NBA’s five players with at least 30,000 points. In the Lakers’ loss Wednesday against Phoenix, Bryant scored 17 points on 7 of 17 shooting, including a 1 of 5 mark in the fourth quarter. He blamed that on poor spacing when he was double teamed.

“We’re obviously not reaching our full potential if we’re going through a whole half without me shooting the ball,” Bryant said. “But at the same time, the most important part is getting everybody in rhythm. I can find my offensive rhythm in the course of the game.”

D’Antoni doesn’t want Bryant to have that mindset.

“You need to be aggressive and make the right play,” he said. “When you take off and they collapse on you, you pass. If they don’t, you score. You need to do it for four quarters. You cant come into a game and be a facilitator and then be a scorer. You have to play what the defense gives you. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Twitter.com/MedinaLakersNBA

mark.medina@dailynews.com

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