Los Angeles, which trails the first-place Kings by 3 1/2 games, will definitely be without Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone, and are likely to be missing Shaquille O’Neal. Furthermore, Arco Arena is an inhospitable place for opponents as the Kings boast an NBA-best 20-2 record at home this season.
This is the first meeting of the season between these division rivals. They split the four-game series last season, with each team winning once on the other’s home floor.
The Lakers, though, are coming off a perfect three-game homestand, having beaten Atlanta, Cleveland and Denver.
Playing without the three superstars on Wednesday night, the Lakers avenged an embarrassing loss to Denver with a 97-71 victory. Los Angeles, which lost at Denver by 22 points one week earlier, shot 54.3 percent to the Nuggets’ 35.1 percent.
Slava Medvedenko had 22 points and nine rebounds while Gary Payton added 21 points and six assists.
“We showed we can play without our top guys,” Payton said. “We just gutted it down. Everybody played together and we’ve just got to keep it up. When we play together and pass the ball the way we did and get everybody involved, it’s really easy for us. We rebounded the ball and played good defense.”
Los Angeles also got a big contribution from Horace Grant, who had eight points and 11 rebounds.
However, Grant will miss Friday’s game to be with his ailing father in Georgia.
“It could be a few days, it could be a week, I want to get everything situated there with my dad and make sure he has the proper care around him,” Grant said.
While Bryant and Malone will be sidelined for a few more weeks, O’Neal is expected to be back soon. While Lakers coach Phil Jackson backed off his comment from Tuesday saying that O’Neal was medically cleared to play, there is a small chance the superstar center could return Friday, though it’s more likely he’ll return next week.
With their rivals coming to visit on Friday, the Kings are coming off a lackluster 90-86 win over Miami on Tuesday night.
Peja Stojakovic scored 14 of his 24 points in the first quarter and Sacramento won its fifth straight at home. But the margin would have been bigger had the Kings kept up their pace from early in the game.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re the best-record team and a great team and we get bored sometimes,” said forward Brad Miller, who fell one rebound short of his 12th double-double in 15 games.
“We’ve got to keep punishing people. We’ve got to keep playing. It’s just a fun environment out there. We play like the old teams, but that’s what gets us in trouble sometimes.”
With seven of their next nine games on the road, the Kings can ill afford the same effort.
“Our guys really have to wake up,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “We just stopped playing. I’m glad we got the win, but that’s not the way you want to get it. Sooner or later everybody on our team has got to take some pride. We’ve got to be better than that.”
STANDINGS (through Jan. 14): Lakers - 2nd place, 2 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Kings - 1st place, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 22 ppg; O’Neal, 11.6 rpg; Payton, 6.1 apg. Kings - Stojakovic, 25.1 ppg; Miller, 10.6 rpg; Bibby, 5.5 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.
LAST MEETING: April 10, 2003; Lakers, 117-104. At Los Angeles, Bryant scored 22 of his 34 points in the second half and O’Neal had 32 points and 16 rebounds. Chris Webber and Bibby scored 24 points each and Stojakovic added 20.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 6-9 on the road; Kings - 20-2 at home.