Lakers-Kings Preview

It wasn’t long ago when the Los Angeles Lakers had finally found
their groove and appeared to be coasting into the playoffs.

Their latest rash of injuries may have put those postseason
hopes in jeopardy.

The Lakers know they won’t have Metta World Peace available
following regular season-ending knee surgery, but having Kobe
Bryant on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings will surely
cushion the blow.

Following a 113-103 loss at Milwaukee on Thursday, the Lakers
revealed Bryant has been dealing with a bone spur in his left foot.
Bryant, third in the NBA in scoring at 27.2 per game, finished with
30 points despite 6-of-17 shooting against the Bucks, but he left
the arena using one crutch.

“Inflamed on me. I’ll be all right,” Bryant told Yahoo
Sports.

The Lakers (37-36) listed Bryant as probable despite the injury.
He’s been bothered by the bone spur for several games, and he got
treatment on the injury Friday.

Los Angeles went 2-1 with Bryant sidelined almost three full
games because of a sprained ankle earlier this month.

Bryant’s latest injury came a day after the team announced World
Peace would miss at least six weeks due to a torn meniscus in his
left knee. Jodie Meeks has started the last two games in his place,
shooting 6 of 19 from the field.

Steve Nash is listed as questionable with discomfort in his
right hip and hamstrings after he sat out the fourth quarter
Thursday. Pau Gasol has played four games after missing 20 with a
foot injury but is averaging just 10.0 points since returning.

The Lakers have lost four of five overall – following an 11-3
stretch – and can’t afford to continue their slide with Dallas and
Utah fighting them for the eighth and final playoff spot in the
Western Conference.

“We need to win every single game that we have left,” Dwight
Howard said. “… If we want to do anything in the playoffs, we
will need to come together as a team and win some games.”

Howard enters this contest having recorded 12 straight
double-doubles, averaging 19.0 points and 15.2 rebounds. However,
he’s totaled 12 points and 13 boards in his last two visits to
Sacramento.

Los Angeles has lost three straight there, including a 113-97
defeat Nov. 21 despite Bryant’s 38 points. He’s averaged 33.2 in
his past six matchups with the Kings.

His absence didn’t hurt the Lakers in the last meeting, winning
113-102 on March 17 as Antawn Jamison made five 3-pointers and
scored a game-high 27.

DeMarcus Cousins sat out that night with a quad injury – he
missed Sacramento’s other loss in the season series due to a
suspension – but enters this matchup coming off possibly his best
performance of the season.

Cousins scored 17 in a row in the first half and finished with a
season-high 34 on 12-of-16 shooting Thursday in a 117-103 victory
at Phoenix. He also grabbed 14 rebounds to help Sacramento win for
the sixth time in 10 games.

“He has the whole package,” coach Keith Smart said. “When
everything comes along in his life, when he grows up and sells into
how he plays every night in the NBA, he’ll be a special
talent.”

Cousins battled foul trouble and finished with seven points in
the November victory over the Lakers.

Isaiah Thomas led the way with 26 points against Los Angeles
earlier this month. He’s averaged 26.3 on 60.5 percent shooting –
including 14 for 23 from 3-point range – in his last three games
overall.

The Kings have scored 110.3 per game – 10.3 above their season
average – over their last 16. They could maintain that pace against
a Los Angeles defense allowing an average of 113.0 points on a
four-game road trip which ends Saturday.