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Lakers beat Timberwolves in OT, make NBA playoffs as 7 seed

The Lakers targeted 19 wins for a very specific reason.

It was early February, the morning before LeBron James broke the NBA’s all-time scoring record, when teammate Dennis Schroder put it on the record.

With 28 games left in their season, Schroder said the team’s mindset was to win at least 19 — that would be the number the Lakers would need to make the playoffs.

Days later, the roster was remodeled and soon, the Lakers started playing some of their best basketball of the season.

They won 18 more games, one short of their goal.

And that’s why, Tuesday night, they had to stand on the doorstep of the playoffs with a younger, hungrier, looser Minnesota team right next to them.

Lakers forward LeBron James scores on a layup against Timberwolves forward Taurean Prince during the first half Tuesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

One more win, anywhere in the season, would’ve meant the Lakers were the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Maybe with a whistle in Boston, a made free throw in Philadelphia, better rotations against Indiana or Dallas — any of it, and the Lakers wouldn’t have been in this position.

Needing one more win.

So of course, it took one more comeback.

“That’s one thing we’ve been very good at,” James said.

Down by 15 in the second half of their play-in game, the Lakers rallied and looked like they had it won on Schroder’s three-point shot with 1.1 seconds left. But Anthony Davis fouled Minnesota’s Mike Conley on a three, with the veteran guard sending the game to overtime with three free throws.

However, just like the Lakers’ season, the slow start wouldn’t define them, the team overcoming the late mistake and owning overtime to advance to the playoffs with a 108-102 win.

“That felt like the playoffs,” James said, a cut on his leg requiring attention in the locker room after the game.

James scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds in more than 45 minutes. Davis scored 24 and grabbed 15 rebounds, and Schroder, stepping in for the struggling D’Angelo Russell, finished with 21 points.

Lakers forward LeBron James passes the ball over a defender to a teammate cutting to the basket.

Lakers forward LeBron James passes the ball over a defender to a teammate cutting to the basket during the first half Tuesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

James looked exhausted in overtime, bent at the waist and gasping for breaths as the Lakers figured out ways to win despite his five turnovers and total of three points in the fourth quarter and overtime. But they came on a tying three with 2:02 left in regulation, and a lot of the Lakers’ success down the stretch had to do with his rebounds, hustle plays and defense.

“You’re taking the gas tank down to E and trying to see if there’s a reserve tank,” James said. “…You can always find a way to make one more play.”

It’s the Lakers third trip to the playoffs in the last decade, all three coming in James’ tenure. The Lakers will open the first round against the Grizzlies on Sunday at noon PT in Memphis.

Minnesota scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter and four in overtime as the Lakers came back. It finished much better than it started.

“We struggled early,” coach Darvin Ham said.

The Lakers came out flat offensively and unorganized defensively, run over with better energy and better execution from a badly wounded Timberwolves team.

While the Lakers struggled through a win in their regular-season finale Sunday against Utah, Minnesota imploded in a game with New Orleans that determined whether the Timberwolves would be the eighth or ninth seed in the West.

First, Jaden McDaniels, one of the best and most versatile perimeter defenders in the NBA, broke his hand when he punched a wall in frustration. Then later in the first half, All-Star center and former defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert swung at teammate Kyle Anderson during a timeout.

Gobert was sent home from the game and suspended.

Without two starters, Minnesota rallied and won that game with star big man Karl-Anthony Towns carrying the load offensively while guard Anthony Edwards made the biggest defensive plays.

“We have fighters,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said with a laugh before Tuesday’s game when asked about his team’s resilience.

And unsurprisingly, the Timberwolves were the team that swung first.

The Lakers missed 10 of their first 11 shots, Russell starting the string of misses with a three-point shot that was soaked in adrenaline. He had only two points against his former team, though he had eight assists.

Minnesota quickly caught fire, Towns and Taurean Prince, starting for McDaniels, canning threes to help grab early momentum in a game that went back and forth. Minnesota closed the quarter with five straight points and led by 10 early in the second before the Lakers made a push.

Minnesota made a 14-2 run to end the half, forcing the Lakers to make an uphill climb after trailing by 11 at intermission.

This whole season, though, has been a Lakers comeback, the team working back from a 2-10 start to ensure crunch time would be played on its home floor in the play-in tournament.

Towns, who starred all night all over the court with Gobert unavailable, picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, opening the door for the Lakers.

Davis started the comeback, quickly scoring a three-point play that began under the rim. James capped it, hitting a three off a Rui Hachimura screen and tying the game at 95.

With the score tied and less than seven seconds left, James drove baseline, skied and, at the last second, fired the ball to the corner where Schroder stood in front of the Minnesota bench.


But Win 19 would need to wait. Minnesota found Conley open in the far corner, and Davis’ challenge on the shot was too close, his feet landing just inside Conley’s landing area to send the game to overtime.

Hachimura hit a three on the first play of overtime to restart the Lakers. The Timberwolves didn’t score for almost half the period and Prince missed a potential tying three with 12 seconds left.

Two-plus months after saying the Lakers needed to win 19 games to make the playoffs, they finally got there.

“This entire season, we’ve just constantly tried to move forward,” Ham said.

Finally, two Schroder free throws iced it, the hill now climbed, the playoffs ahead of them.

“We took care of business,” James said. “And, we advanced.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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