Warriors-Lakers Preview

With the All-Star break behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers are

unquestionably focused on one thing – defending their championship.

When Kobe Bryant will return to help that pursuit remains a


Regardless of whether Bryant comes back Tuesday night, the

Western Conference-leading Lakers seem to have a very good chance

to begin the second half of the season on a positive note as they

host the Golden State Warriors.

Los Angeles (41-13) entered the All-Star break following a 96-81

victory at Utah on Wednesday. Lamar Odom had 25 points and 11

rebounds, and Pau Gasol added 22 points and 19 boards as the Lakers

won their third straight game without Bryant, sidelined by a

sprained left ankle.

“This is a good team no matter who’s in or who’s out of the

lineup,” said Odom, averaging 17.0 points and 14.3 rebounds during

Bryant’s absence. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

Bryant could miss a fourth consecutive game Wednesday. He played

in all 82 regular-season games the last two seasons.

“People make too much of this warrior thing, it’s kind of

silly,” Bryant said during Friday’s All-Star media day in Dallas.

“If it’s an injury that can get better while I continue to play,

then I’ll continue to play. If it won’t, than I can’t. It’s simple

as that.”

Los Angeles, which has won 28 of 31 at home against Golden State

since 1993-94, could also be without center Andrew Bynum, who has

missed the last two games with a bruised right hip.

Gasol, the Lakers’ only All-Star game participant after Bryant

pulled out of Sunday’s contest with his injury, is averaging 25.4

points and 13.8 boards while posting five straight double-double

against the Warriors, including two this season.

In the teams’ last matchup, Gasol had 27 points and 12 rebounds

while Bryant had season highs with 44 points and 11 assists in a

124-118 victory at Staples Center on Dec. 29. It was the Lakers’

seventh consecutive win in the series overall.

It seems likely that streak will continue, considering Golden

State (14-37) has the league’s third-worst record and might be

missing its top two scorers.

Monta Ellis, sixth in the NBA with 26.2 points per game, is

questionable Wednesday with a sprained left knee, while Corey

Maggette could be out for the third straight game with a dislocated

left ring finger.

If Ellis and Maggette can’t play, rookie Stephen Curry will

likely be Golden State’s go-to player on the offensive end. With

Curry and Maggette sidelined, Curry had season highs with 36

points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a 132-102 victory over the

Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 10 to help the Warriors snap a

season-high nine-game slide.

It was the first time a Warriors rookie posted a triple-double

since Chris Webber accomplished the feat Dec. 23, 1993.

“It was a lot of fun out there, to be able to perform that well,

especially in the situation for us as a team,” said Curry,

runner-up to Boston’s Paul Pierce in the 3-point shootout during

All-Star weekend. “I had the ball in my hands a lot more and that

allows me to make more plays for myself and for my teammates.”

The Lakers are a conference-best 25-4 at home. The Warriors have

lost five straight and 13 of 14 on the road.