Lakers-Bobcats Preview

The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t parlay Kobe Bryant’s impressive

performance into a win to kick off their three-game road trip, but

they won’t have to wait long for a bounce-back opportunity against

the slumping Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats, however, have been anything but pushovers for the

Lakers.

The Lakers had lost six of seven to Charlotte before pulling out

a close home win last month, and they’ll look to complete a rare

season sweep Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The Bobcats (28-31) are seeking their first playoff berth since

entering the league in 2004, but since they have never won more

than 35 games in any season, it’s hard to find an explanation for

their recent success against the Lakers (46-16).

Los Angeles won the first three meetings, but even those weren’t

easy – twice the Lakers needed fourth-quarter rallies to win by one

point.

The Bobcats then won six of the next seven, including three

victories that required a total of six overtimes. Los Angeles

finally got back in the win column Feb. 3 at Staples Center,

beating Charlotte 99-97 despite getting just five points from

Bryant, who was hobbled by a sprained left ankle.

“We respect this team,” Lamar Odom said after scoring a

team-high 19 points. “The last couple of years they’ve played us

hard. They’re a well coached team, very disciplined team.”

Odom, however, didn’t have to deal with Bobcats All-Star Gerald

Wallace, who was sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Six of the Lakers’ 11 games against Charlotte have been decided

by two points or fewer or gone to overtime, and Los Angeles might

be tired heading into this meeting after going five extra minutes

Thursday in Miami.

Bryant had 12 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter to lead the

Lakers back from a nine-point deficit and force overtime, but the

Heat rallied to win 114-111.

“We just couldn’t get stops,” said Bryant, who shook out of a

four-game shooting slump (34.3 percent) by making 15 of 28 shots.

“We basically traded baskets to start the overtime. We didn’t

execute well defensively.”

Los Angeles didn’t do the Bobcats any favors by losing to Miami.

With the win, the Heat jumped 1 1/2 games ahead of Charlotte for

the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot.

The Bobcats, however, haven’t been helping their own cause.

Sixth in the East at the end of January, Charlotte has gone 4-9

since Feb. 1.

Its latest loss was the most lopsided of the bunch. Wallace and

Stephen Jackson were held to eight points apiece and the Bobcats

shot 36.0 percent in a 104-80 loss at Boston on Wednesday.

Wallace, though, didn’t waste much time dwelling on the team’s

fifth loss in six games.

“We got embarrassed (Wednesday) night,” Wallace told the

Bobcats’ official Web site. “So obviously we’re going to come out

(Friday) and make a statement for our fans playing at home.”

Some improvement from Wallace would be a good place for

Charlotte to start. The first-time All-Star averages 18.5 points

and 10.5 rebounds, but has been held to 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds

per game over his last three.

Wallace averaged 17.0 points in the last three games he was

healthy enough to face the Lakers, all wins.