Lakers-Pistons Preview

Playing through a broken nose and a recent concussion, red-hot

Kobe Bryant has helped the Los Angeles Lakers open the second half

of their season in impressive fashion.

A visit to face the Detroit Pistons seems unlikely to slow them

down.

The Lakers kick off a three-game road swing seeking a fourth

consecutive victory overall and sixth straight over the Pistons on

Tuesday night.

Bryant, who was injured on a hard foul by Miami’s Dwyane Wade

during the All-Star game Feb. 26, has been nearly unstoppable

since. Playing with a mask to prevent the risk of further injury,

Bryant has averaged 34.0 points on 54.3 percent shooting in leading

the Lakers (23-14) to three wins in a row.

Bryant continued his tremendous play during Sunday’s

much-anticipated matchup with the Heat. The 14-time All-Star shot a

season-best 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) to finish with 33 points as Los

Angeles improved to 8-2 over its last 10 games with a 93-83

victory.

“It’s just about understanding what your strengths are then

playing to that,” said Bryant, who is expected to continue wearing

the mask on this trip.

“The testament to any championship team is to understand what

your weaknesses are and protect those, then understand what your

strengths are and playing to those. I feel like we’re starting to

figure out how to support each other in that department.”

While Bryant has been sensational, the Lakers have also thrived

on the defensive end of the court. Los Angeles, which limited Miami

to 37.5 percent shooting, ranks near the top of the league in

opposing field-goal percentage (41.7) and points per game allowed

(91.4).

The Lakers have taken five straight from the Pistons (12-26),

including three in a row at The Palace of Auburn Hills by an

average of 13.3 points.

In his last visit, Bryant scored 33 in a 103-90 victory Nov. 17,

2010, and Pistons coach Lawrence Frank knows his team will likely

have its hands full again.

“They don’t run the triangle (anymore), but they’ll play

(Bryant) in the post, they’ll play him off the elbow, they’ll put

him in pick and rolls,” Frank told his team’s official website.

“He’s a great player. You could run the octagon and Kobe is going

to find a way to be special in it.

“He’s a winner. He’s got five championship rings. But we’re just

talking about playing one game. That’s all we need to focus

on.”

The Pistons enter this matchup losers of four of five, with

their only win during that stretch coming 109-94 over NBA-worst

Charlotte on Wednesday.

Detroit saw its struggles continue Saturday, falling 100-83 at

Memphis. The Pistons shot 38.2 percent and committed seven of their

17 turnovers in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored

31-13.

“We just have to take care of the ball,” said guard Rodney

Stuckey, who scored 20 points on 6-of-22 shooting. “We turned the

ball over a lot at the end of the game. I think if we would just

take care of the ball and spread the court out a little more, we

would have been fine.”

Rookie guard Brandon Knight, averaging 16.9 points over his last

seven games, scored 15 but missed 11 of 16 shots against the

Grizzlies.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s a building process. We’re still

getting better,” Knight said. “We saw a lot of good signs. We’ve

just got to step it up in the fourth quarter.”