The Los Angeles Lakers see a path to the playoffs this season, and the guide for an adventurous late-season ride is Anthony Davis.
The eight-time All-Star will be asked to lead the way again on Friday night when the Lakers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Minneapolis.
Both the Lakers and Timberwolves enter the game just outside of a top-six in the Western Conference standings.
Minnesota (39-38) is one game behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors with five games remaining. Los Angeles (38-38) is 1 1/2 games behind Golden State with six games left.
The top six receive an automatic berth in the first round of the playoffs, while the next four teams in the standings are relegated to the play-in tournament.
The Lakers kicked off a crucial late-season five-game road trip with a 121-110 victory against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night. To be fair, the last game of the trip is in their own building but as the visiting team against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Davis led the way with 38 points and 10 rebounds against the Bulls.
“I thought he came out early and set a tone,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We called his number a lot.”
Despite getting double-teamed for most of the game, Davis scored at least 35 points for the fifth time in 12 games this month and posted his seventh double-double in March.
He will be asked to finish the month the way he started it when he had a 38-point effort March 3 against the visiting Timberwolves. But Minnesota won the game 110-102.
The Lakers did not have LeBron James in that defeat, but their plan of attack won’t change even with James back in the lineup after missing a month with a foot injury.
“It all starts with (Davis),” Ham said. “Him just playing with force, him not settling, putting pressure on the defense to foul, his lovin’ and livin’ in the paint, and it allows other guys to quietly get into a rhythm and then get to the point where we can feature them as well.”
James had 25 points and seven rebounds against the Bulls in his second game back from injury. He said Davis is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, especially when he’s consistently making shots from outside the paint, as he did on Wednesday.
“For us, as the supporting cast, we just try to do our part,” said James, a four-time NBA MVP. “Try to find him early and often, late and often, and go from there.”
Minnesota missed a chance to match its longest winning streak of the season -- five -- when it lost 107-100 on the road to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday to wrap up a three-game trip.
The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers.
“We got to do a better job spacing for each other, especially against a good defensive team like them,” Minnesota center Rudy Gobert said.
Adding to the difficulty on Wednesday night, the Suns took 27 free throws, compared to 12 for the Timberwolves.
Because of an intestinal flu that has impacted the team, Minnesota was without Taurean Prince, Austin Rivers and Matt Ryan, while others played through the illness.
“It was a tough one, man,” said Minnesota point guard Mike Conley, who was among those feeling under the weather. “It’s hard to talk and breathe at the same time, but we’re a competitive group and we don’t use that as an excuse.”
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