With the Los Angeles Lakers in a tight race for the top spot in the Western Conference, they can’t afford too many more slip-ups down the stretch.
The Lakers look to bounce back after having their six-game home winning streak snapped when they host the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
Los Angeles (44-19) is battling San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans for the best record in the West, but a surprising 114-113 loss to Sacramento on Sunday didn’t help its cause. The Lakers entered as winners of 13 of 14 games, but fell behind 71-60 at halftime and couldn’t complete the comeback for a victory.
“I think we lost this one from the onset - coming out with the right sense of purpose and execution,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant said. “I think it’s a good wakeup call for us.”
Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points, but missed a potential winning jumper at the buzzer.
“I’m OK. I’m moving on,” he said. “We’ll make adjustments offensively.”
Winning Tuesday could be critical since the Lakers, who lead the Pacific Division by three games over Phoenix, begin a brutal four-game road trip Friday. They’ll visit New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Utah in a span of seven days.
Bryant’s 28.0 scoring average against the Raptors (34-28) is his second-best against any club, behind only his 36.2 against Charlotte. He’s had plenty of memorable games against Toronto, most notably his 81-point performance two seasons ago in a 122-104 win Jan. 22, 2006.
The Raptors are a much-improved team compared to that club that won only 27 games, but they didn’t have much success in slowing down Bryant in the teams’ first meeting of this season, a 121-101 Lakers win Feb. 1. Bryant scored 46 points on 19-of-28 shooting.
“He’s the best one-on-one player in the league, hands down,” Toronto All-Star forward Chris Bosh said after the loss. “It makes it tougher on us to help because he wasn’t really selfish with the ball tonight. He played a great game.”
Toronto appears to be on course for a second straight playoff appearance as it sits in fifth place in the East. The Raptors, beginning a five-game Western Conference road trip, are trying to catch fourth-place Cleveland in the race for home-court advantage for a likely first-round series between the teams.
“This is one of the hardest trips of the season,” Raptors center Rasho Nesterovic said. “We play against teams that are on top in the West. The first thing is to stay healthy. If we play focused, and stay aggressive things will go well.”
The Raptors also face Golden State, Denver, Sacramento and Utah on the trip.
Toronto hasn’t been healthy since Bosh sat out the last five games with a knee injury and may miss this trip. The Raptors improved to 4-6 this season without their superstar with a 114-106 win over Seattle on Sunday.
Anthony Parker scored 23 points and Nesterovic matched a season high with 17 as Toronto converted 21 turnovers into 30 points and avoided a third straight home loss. The Raptors finished with 26 assists and had six players score in double figures.
“We just moved the ball, everybody got a lot of passes today, everybody got points so everybody scored,” point guard Jose Calderon said. “That’s how we have got to play, it’s more difficult for the defense when everybody is giving us something on the offense.”