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Timberwolves host Lakers in final game before break

MINNEAPOLIS -- With one game left before the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping to rediscover some of what worked during the league's unofficial first half.

Los Angeles heads to Minnesota on Thursday after a 139-117 loss in New Orleans in which coach Luke Walton and new point guard Isaiah Thomas were ejected, and the Lakers gave up a season-high point total for an opponent in a regulation game.

It was Los Angeles' second straight loss after eight wins in the previous 10 games.

"We've got to get our mojo back," Walton told the team's website after Wednesday's loss. "We've somehow lost it quickly. The last two games offensively we've been fine. We're just not playing any defense.

"We've got breakdowns (with) our 3-point defense, our switching, simple pin-downs. Simple part of the game defensively we've stopped doing."

The Timberwolves (35-25) had their 13-game home winning streak snapped Tuesday as the Houston Rockets hit 22 3-pointers in a 126-108 victory. Houston outscored Minnesota 42-28 in the fourth quarter.

"I'm disappointed in our team from the standpoint of, when you're playing a team like that, you have to come in with an edge," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "And part of it was we didn't make shots. We didn't shoot the three well, particularly in the first half. I thought we had a lot of good plays and we can't allow that to sap our energy. That was probably the most disappointing thing.

"If we hit a lull offensively, that's when we're going to get into trouble if we don't play defense. That's probably the biggest thing. For every player, you're not going to shoot great every night and when you don't shoot great, you've got to do other things. Play great defense, get some rebounds, make some hustle plays, get into the open floor. I think sometimes you get a couple of easy baskets like that and it can get you going. We didn't play our best for sure and I thought they played really well."

Minnesota is tied for second in the league in home wins at 23-6 but has lost three of four games overall. The Wolves survived for a victory against Sacramento in a lackluster performance on Sunday but couldn't hold down the scorching Rockets.

The 126 points allowed tied the second-most the Wolves have given up in a regulation game this season.

"We made mistakes, but they're hitting some shots and we could have done a lot of things to help us win this game, myself included, and we didn't," Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns said. "That's just how it goes. We've got to rally back and be ready for L.A."

With a victory, the Wolves can get back into a tie for third place in the Western Conference behind Golden State and Houston.

The Lakers have been down in the standings all season but had shown improvement in its recent stretch.

After nine straight losses at the end of December and start of January -- including twice to Minnesota in that stretch -- Los Angeles had put together three separate four-game winning streaks interrupted each time by a pair of back-to-back losses.

The span included promising play from young players such as Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle.

Ingram is averaging 20 points and 5.7 assists over his last six games.

"He's shooting the ball with extreme confidence right now," Walton told the team's website. "He's not taking bad 3s. They're normally inside-out type of shots or swing-swing shots."

Ingram was 9-of-17 shooting for 21 points against New Orleans and had five assists. Kuzma scored a team-high 23 points off the bench and Randle added 20.

It was a heated game. Thomas and Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo were ejected after a verbal confrontation.

"He also hit me in my face three times," Thomas told the team's website. "At some point, like as a human, if nobody's gonna protect me I've got to protect myself. And that's when I spoke up and got upset."

Walton was later ejected for arguing a foul call on Kuzma.

Wednesday was Thomas' second game with the Lakers after being acquired in the trade that sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to Cleveland. Thomas had a big debut with 22 points and six assists in 30-plus minutes against Dallas and is coming off the bench early in his tenure with Los Angeles.
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