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The Minnesota Timberwolves cannot afford anymore losses if they hope to reach the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

The Timberwolves face a must-win situation Friday when they visit the Los Angeles Lakers.

Consecutive losses have dropped Minnesota (44-35) into the middle of an extremely tight race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Minnesota fell to eighth in the West after losing at the Denver Nuggets 100-96 on Thursday night.

The loss at Denver occurred four days after a 121-97 rout by the Utah Jazz at Minnesota.

“We’ve got to do better Ryan McLeod Oilers Jersey ,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the latest loss.

The Nuggets are also 44-35, but Minnesota holds the tiebreaker because they’ve won two of three in the head-to-head matchup so far. The teams also meet in the regular-season finale on Wednesday in Minnesota.

In the meantime, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans are each 44-34, one game in front of the Timberwolves and Nuggets with three games remaining.

Big-time help for Minnesota should be on the way, however.

Thibodeau said Thursday night there’s a good chance leading scorer Jimmy Butler returns after missing the past 17 games with a knee injury. The four-time All Star is averaging 22.2 points.

Jeff Teague also returned against Denver after missing the Utah game with a sore knee and he finished with 15 points and six assists in 36 minutes.

Derrick Rose also returned after missing the previous six games with an ankle injury but totaled just four points in 15 minutes and didn’t record and assist or rebound.

“We need everyone,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone has to step up now. We need everyone’s best. We’ve got to play great intensity on every play.”

Minnesota is 12-13 against Western Conference opponents on the road this season. They won their only other game against the Lakers at Staples Center this season, a 121-104 victory on Christmas.

The Lakers (34-44) can play spoiler for the second consecutive game.

They knocked off the Spurs 122-112 in overtime on Wednesday to keep San Antonio just inside the playoff bubble while also ending the Spurs’ chances at 50 wins for an 18th consecutive season.

Rookie Kyle Kuzma continues to be one of the brightest lights for the Lakers this season.

He scored 26 points in a 117-110 loss at the Jazz on Tuesday, then came back the following night and scored 30 in against the Spurs.

Kuzma has four 30-point games this season, the most by a Los Angeles rookie since Magic Johnson in 1979-80. He already became the first NBA rookie to record at least 1,200 points, 450 rebounds and 150 3-pointers in a season.

“It’s fun watching him compete at that level,” Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after Los Angeles completed the first season sweep of the Spurs since 1997-98.

Lonzo Ball was expected to be the most valuable rookie for the Lakers this season, but he’s missed the past four games with a left knee contusion and likely won’t play against the Timberwolves. He’s missed 26 games overall this season due to injury.

Brandon Ingram, the second-leading scorer for Los Angeles at 16.2 points, missed the past three games because he was in the NBA concussion protocol and his status also remains in doubt for Friday.

Mike Munchak doesn’t live in a bubble.

If anything, he makes it a point to avoid it.

So do the players he mentors as the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So when the Hall of Famer’s name popped up as a candidate for the open head coaching job in Arizona this week, Munchak didn’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Neither did his guys.

”We told him to enjoy the West Coast,” Chris Hubbard said with a laugh. ”Enjoy being out there closer to your daughter.”

Hubbard was kidding. For now anyway.

Just because the AFC North champions have given the Cardinals permission to interview Munchak doesn’t mean he’s going to get the job.

Then again, if Munchak needs a reference or two http://www.packersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-josh-jackson-jersey , he won’t lack for volunteers.

Look no further than the group Munchak has helped turn into one of the best offensive lines in the league, one bent on making sure their mentor will have to wait until early February before moving on to the next opportunity should one come along.

Over the course of the past four seasons, Munchak has taken a line filled with disparate personalities and pedigrees and turned it into a cohesive group and made most of them millionaires several times over in the process. When asked if Munchak deserves a cut of the profits, to a man they say yes.

Of course, Munchak would never take it. What’s the fun in that when he can use the knowledge he’s one of the lowest-paid guys in the room – and the only one, by the way, with a bust in Canton, Ohio – to bring out the sense of humor he uses to disarm and instruct, often at the same time. Film sessions are equal parts teaching mechanism and stand-up act.

”He’ll make fun of you in a funny, nonaggressive way, not to where (you’re offended),” said four-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, whose rise to one of the best in the league coincided with Munchak’s arrival in 2014.

”If he makes fun of you, you laugh about it but then it’s still in the back of your head right, so you remember (the lesson) at the same time.”

Four years and four playoff berths into Munchak’s tenure, the lessons have been many. While left tackle Alejandro Villanueva stressed the line’s only goal is ”to win the game and keep (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) upright,” let’s give it a try anyway.

Over the first decade of Roethlisberger’s career, he was sacked an average of 42 times a season. Since Munchak arrived, that number has dropped to 22+ a season.

Though there are other factors at play, namely Roethlisberger’s continued evolution Authentic Isac Lundestrom Jersey , the presence of some of the best skill position players in the league in wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, the line’s contributions can’t be overlooked.

And those contributions start with Munchak, who has preached an ethos that could best be described as a jumbo-sized version of the ”Three Musketeers.”

”He created an offensive line and an offensive line is not about individuals, it’s about the collective culture you have in the room,” said Villanueva, a former practice squad player who made his first Pro Bowl this season.

”I’ve been nothing more than a product of his environment, the standards that he sets and the way he coaches.”

A method that resonates in a room filled with everything from surefire bets DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey (both former first-round picks) to undrafted free agents such as Villanueva, Hubbard and left guard Ramon Foster.

Despite a resume that includes a Hall of Fame jacket and a spot on the 1980s All-Decade team during his career with the Houston Oilers, Munchak carries himself like an everyman.

”He understands the game so well so it makes you feel very comfortable when you talk to him about things,” Villanueva said. ”He’s not panicking or freaking out when some things are not going right. He’s always the same consistent person every single day.”

Things have rarely gone wrong for the Steelers this season. The line has stayed remarkably healthy, the only real trouble spot coming when right tackle Marcus Gilbert served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancers policy.

Hubbard stepped in and played admirably in Gilbert’s absence. The Steelers went 3-1 during that stretch, the only loss to New England in a game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.

”He treats everybody the same, he has no favorites,” Hubbard said. ”That’s a big part of what we have. That’s why we’re so close. We can talk about anything that may go on.”

Including Munchak’s possible departure. Yet the men Munchak coaches aren’t wasting any time getting prematurely nostalgic. They’re well aware Munchak, who went 22-26 in three seasons as head coach in Tennessee from 2011-13, is capable of taking over the big job.

And they’ll be the first ones to congratulate him if it happens. There’s also a job to do. What better way to bolster Munchak’s stock than by having the line help pave the way to a seventh Super Bowl?

”He teaches us to care about one another and we take that onto the field,” Villanueva said. ”We care about his family, his well-being, We care about his reputation. We take that very personally.”

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