LeBron James scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the depleted Minnesota Timberwolves 108-102 in overtime on Tuesday night to secure the seventh berth in the Western Conference playoffs.
For the Lakers, who will play second-seeded Memphis in the first round beginning on Sunday, Dennis Schroder scored 21 points and sealed the victory with two free throws with 8.4 seconds remaining.
Mike Conley sank three free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining in regulation to tie it for the Wolves, who will host New Orleans or Oklahoma City on Friday for the eighth slot and a first-round matchup with top-seeded Denver starting on Sunday. Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points for the Wolves.
On Wednesday night, the Pelicans and Thunder will square off, and Minnesota must defeat the winner to advance to the playoffs for only the third time in the previous 19 seasons.
In addition to his 24 points, 15 rebounds, and one really stupid foul on Conley, who had 23 points, Anthony Davis also had 15 rebounds. Despite playing without its starting guards Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels for the first three quarters, Minnesota provided a valiant effort and forced Los Angeles to settle for a tie.
While McDaniels is out permanently with a broken hand after striking a wall in anger on Sunday, Gobert was punished for assaulting teammate Kyle Anderson during Minnesota’s regular-season finale against New Orleans.
The Lakers came back from a 15-point hole in the second half, but Los Angeles eventually prevailed thanks to their defense, which limited the Wolves to seven points in the game’s last 11 minutes. Minnesota went a whole six minutes without scoring after dominating for the most of the evening.
With 1.4 seconds left in regulation, Schroder sank a game-winning 3-pointer to break the tie, but the Wolves forced overtime when Conley made his free throws after Davis’ step-on after he had already unleashed a 3-point attempt.
Rui Hachimura, who finished with 12 points, hit a 3-pointer to give Los Angeles the advantage permanently on the first possession of overtime. Up until Anthony Edwards’ dunk with 2:36 remaining in overtime, the Wolves missed 11 straight attempts.
In the second half, Edwards temporarily left the floor to have tape on his left shoulder after scoring only nine points, more than 15 below his average.
With two points on 1-of-9 shooting and eight assists, D’Angelo Russell had a terrible game for Los Angeles against the franchise that traded him in February. He was benched down the stretch in favour of Schroder, who excelled upon making his two-game injury comeback.
Since James joined the team five seasons ago, this was the first non-regular season game the Lakers have played at home in front of a full house. Los Angeles lost to Phoenix in the first round of the 2021 playoffs in front of a venue that was just halfway full and spent the whole 2020 and 2022 playoff seasons in the Florida bubble.
Since April 2013, when the Lakers’ venue was still the Staples Center, no non-regular season game has featured a full house.
Since the Wolves’ dramatic season finale left his team without its best rim protector and its top point-of-attack defender on James in their most recent meetings, Minnesota coach Chris Finch said he had spent the last two days “sorting through the wreckage, if you will.”
A 14-2 surge to end the second quarter and take a 60-49 lead into halftime showed that Minnesota was more impressive than the Lakers right away. Following Towns’ early exit from the game with five fouls in the fourth quarter, the Wolves’ advantage eventually started to shrink.