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Lakers vs. Timberwolves preview: Los Angeles forced to figure out road woes without Dwight Howard

Just when things were finally looking up in Laker land, the wheels come off again. Now, they're left to pick up the pieces on a seven-game road trip that begins with a visit to Minnesota.

Harry How

Just when you thought the Lakers were finally heating up, they go and drop a pitiful performance against a lowly Suns team. Now, they'll be faced with the task of recapturing some of their steam in the frigid land of the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday evening without All-Star center Dwight Howard.

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Howard is expected to miss this Western Conference showdown after aggravating his sore right shoulder in the Lakers' 92-86 loss to Phoenix Wednesday. He's currently listed as day-to-day, which is troublesome news when you consider that the Lakers are just beginning their make-or-break, seven-game, Grammys road trip.

Los Angeles has lost all three games in which Howard hasn't played this season and has allowed 116.3 points per game without his defensive presence. Luckily for the Lake Show, that number happens to be more than the equally injury-ravaged Wolves have scored in a single game all season long.

Minnesota is still without the services of both Kevin Love (hand) and Brandon Roy (knee) and just recently got back Nikola Pekovic (quad contusion) and Alexey Shved (ankle). With all that in mind, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Timberwolves are in the midst of a five-game skid, with losses to the Wizards and Bobcats across that span.

But with the Lakers owning an eight-game road losing streak of their own, this game is shaping up to be the definition of a crapshoot. Los Angeles does have history on its side, as Kobe Bryant and company have won 17 straight contest against Minnesota.

Those international basketball fans out there will at least be treated to a battle of Spaniards with Pau Gasol expected to move back into the starting lineup to face off against Ricky Rubio. Despite his frustrations, Gasol has done an admirable job off the pine for the Lakers this season, averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in seven games as a reserve. Gasol also showed a tendency to step his game up against the Wolves last season, averaging 18 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocks all in an efficient 35.3 minutes per game.

Time: 9:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Odds: Lakers by 3