The Los Angeles Lakers don't have much margin for error if they hope to make an eighth straight playoff appearance, but they should be pretty confident in their ability to beat the New Orleans Hornets.
Getting Metta World Peace back should make them feel even better.
World Peace is expected to return from a torn meniscus nearly a month earlier than anticipated Tuesday night at Staples Center as the desperate Lakers look for an 11th straight win over the Hornets.
Los Angeles (40-37) won 11 of its first 14 after the All-Star break to grab a one-game lead for the Western Conference's eighth seed, but it's slipped a bit over the last three weeks. Sunday's 109-95 loss to the Clippers was the Lakers' fifth in nine games, and after Utah's 97-90 win at Golden State later that night, Los Angeles found itself a half-game behind the Jazz for the final playoff spot.
Utah also owns the tiebreaker.
"We've got a bigger challenge than worrying about beating the Clippers in one game,'' Kobe Bryant said. "... Our concern is playing well in order to get into the playoffs, get guys healthy, and go in there and see what we can do.''
Steve Nash is likely to miss his fourth straight with a hamstring injury on Tuesday, but the Lakers should get a surprise return from World Peace. The mercurial forward suffered his knee injury March 25 at Golden State and Los Angeles believed he'd be out until early May - if the Lakers were even still playing then - but he's been cleared to go after recovering from surgery in less than two weeks.
"We've got a chance to make a push for this championship run,'' World Peace told reporters Monday after practice at the Lakers' training complex. "We all need it. All the guys under contract, injured or not injured, we all need each other to make a run at this thing.''
Los Angeles could certainly use an additional 3-point threat, and World Peace averages a team-best 2.0 per game, shooting 34.7 percent overall from beyond the arc. The Lakers are shooting 31.8 percent from long distance in this nine-game stretch, with Bryant shooting a woeful 17.9 percent (7 of 39).
Efficiency from deep hasn't been an issue for Los Angeles against New Orleans this season. The Lakers are shooting 40.4 percent beyond the arc in three wins over the Hornets (27-50) - hitting at least 11 3s in each victory - and they're shooting 48.1 percent overall in their 10 straight victories over New Orleans.
Reserve guard Jodie Meeks has been the big contributor from deep in this season's series, hitting 11 of 23 from long distance while averaging 13.7 points.
Bryant had 42 points in a 108-102 win at New Orleans last month, scoring 13 of those during a 20-0 closing run as the Lakers overcame a 25-point deficit.
The Hornets head to Staples for the fourth game of a five-game road trip, but they should feel somewhat good about themselves after winning away from home Sunday for the first time since the All-Star break. Anthony Davis had 20 points as New Orleans beat Phoenix 95-92 for its first road win since Feb. 11.
"It was good to get a win so people can stop talking about how many we lost on the road in a row,'' coach Monty Williams said. "Our guys feel good about beating a team in their place.''