Wizards-Lakers Preview

The Los Angeles Lakers appear close to having their four stars

together on the floor again.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol could both return from injuries as the

Lakers try for an eighth straight home win Friday night against the

Washington Wizards.

Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said Wednesday he hopes his two

injured stars could play Friday. Bryant missed the last two games

and three quarters of another after he sprained his ankle at

Atlanta on March 13. Gasol, meanwhile, has sat the last 20 with a

torn plantar fascia.

Gasol, Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have not played

together since Jan. 30 for the Lakers (36-33), who have won 19 of

27 and currently own the final playoff spot in the Western

Conference. Those four and Metta World Peace have played just 17

games together and not made up the starting lineup since Jan.

20.

“If our minds and hearts are into it, we can be a heck of a team

and we can beat anybody,” Gasol told the Lakers’ official website.

“We have too many guys who can put the ball in the hole for us to

focus on one or two guys mainly. Once we share the ball and we

really want to defend, get back in transition and limit our

turnovers, we’re a tough team.”

Regardless when Gasol returns, D’Antoni said the 7-footer would

eventually start alongside Howard. Gasol begrudgingly came off the

bench for seven games in January when D’Antoni felt he wasn’t

completely healthy.

“There were a lot of decisions made when Steve Nash wasn’t 100

percent on the floor, when Dwight Howard wasn’t 100 percent, when

Pau wasn’t 100 percent,” D’Antoni said. “When they’re all 100

percent, it can work.”

Playing its ninth game in 14 days, Los Angeles ran out of gas

during Monday’s 99-76 loss at Phoenix. Nash scored 19 and Howard

added 16 with 11 rebounds but the Lakers shot 33.3 percent – their

second-lowest effort of the season – and committed 18

turnovers.

“We just hit the wall,” Nash said. “With some guys being

injured, we’ve been playing a seven-man rotation and I think it

caught up with us a little bit.”

Though Howard went 6 of 18 from the field, he’s scored at least

16 points six times and averaged 15.1 boards while recording eight

straight double-doubles.

The Lakers have averaged 108.8 points and shot 49.0 percent

during their longest home winning stretch since a 10-game run last

season.

Nash is averaging 18.0 points on 56.5 percent shooting in the

last five at Staples Center.

Los Angeles has won four straight at home and 10 of 11 overall

against the Wizards (24-43). Bryant scored 30 in the Lakers’ 102-96

win at Washington on Dec. 14.

Point guard John Wall was still recovering from an offseason

knee injury then, but the Wizards are 19-15 since his season debut.

He had 19 points and eight assists as Washington held Phoenix to

33.7 percent shooting to win for the fourth time in five games,

88-79 on Wednesday.

The Wizards have allowed fewer than 88 points in half of their

last 10 contests.

“Defensively, that’s what we take our pride in,” said Wall, who

is averaging 23.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting and 9.5 assists

over the last six games. “When we play defense, we feel we can beat

anybody.”

Wall had 22 points and 14 assists in his only game against the

Lakers at Staples, a 115-108 loss on Dec. 7, 2010.

The Wizards could be without second-leading scorer Bradley Beal

(13.9 points per game) after the rookie left Wednesday with a

sprained ankle.