MINNEAPOLIS — Dwight Howard’s right shoulder continues to bother him, another thread running through an already untenable Lakers season.
The Lakers, though, managed to shake off another pesky problem Friday. They actually won a road game. Barely.
They beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the few teams below them in the Western Conference standings, watching a 29-point lead slashed to four before winning, 111-100, at the Target Center.
Kobe Bryant came close to another triple-double and the Lakers earned a road victory for the first time since Dec. 22. Neither Christmas nor New Year’s Eve had happened by that point, though it was already obvious something was wrong with the Lakers.
Another bad habit continued Friday, a more recent one. The Lakers (21-26) fumbled a large lead. It’s happened three games in a row.
Howard wasn’t here to see it, having flown back to Los Angeles for a minor shoulder procedure Saturday. He planned to rejoin the team in Detroit later Saturday and was expected to play against the Pistons on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In the relatively non-invasive PRP procedure planned for Saturday, a small amount of blood will be drawn from the affected area and spun in a centrifuge for about 20 minutes to isolate platelets. The platelets are reinjected into the shoulder to try to stimulate repair and regeneration.
Howard’s official status is listed as day-to-day but the injury will linger the rest of the season.
“Even if we shut him down for two months, it’s still going to be there,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The next time he gets hit, it’s going to hurt him. It’s a pain thing.”
Howard has sat out four games since sustaining a torn labrum in his right shoulder a month ago. He left two other games after aggravating the shoulder, including the Lakers’ 92-86 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Lakers can’t keep stumbling on large leads.
They led by 18 against New Orleans and won by only five. Against Phoenix, they were up 13 and lost by six.
Their edge against the Timberwolves was a laughable 61-32 midway through the second quarter before the Timberwolves’ zone defense began to ground them. It wasn’t so funny when the Timberwolves moved within 94-90 on Alexey Shved’s three-point shot with 5 minutes 55 seconds to play.
Bryant, though fed Pau Gasol for a dunk that turned into a three-point play after Gasol was fouled. After Gasol hit a shot from seven feet, Bryant found Antawn Jamison for a layup. Then Bryant made two free-throw attempts to put the Lakers back up by nine.
Bryant finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. He didn’t shoot well, making four of 13. He wasn’t concerned.
“The last thing I’m worried about is my shooting and scoring,” Bryant said. “The scoring thing, I can turn it on at any time.”
Bryant has come close to a triple-double in four recent games, falling two assists shy this time.
“Defenses don’t know what the hell to do. They really don’t know how to play me,” Bryant said. “One time I came off [a screen] and I was wide open. That threw me off. I wasn’t used to being that well open.”
Gasol turned in one of his best games of the season, scoring 22 points and taking 12 rebounds in Howard’s place.
Shved finished with 18 points and six assists for the Timberwolves (17-26), who fell to 2-12 since losing Kevin Love because of hand surgery.
The Lakers beat Minnesota for a 20th consecutive time, extending the NBA’s longest active streak.
They also improved to 6-16 on the road, a fact that seemed surprising to Metta World Peace. He couldn’t fathom that the Lakers had gone six weeks since winning a road game.
“Oh really?” he said. “That’s not the type of team we are. Sometimes people get lucky. It’s true. It’s unfortunate that 26 teams got lucky this year. We’re still the best team, you know?”