After back-to-back home losses to two of the league’s worst teams, Bryant and the Lakers will try to avoid losing three straight for the first time in more than two months on Sunday when they host the streaking Washington Wizards.
Los Angeles (49-24) seemed like it was developing into the best team in the loaded Western Conference before in-season acquisition Pau Gasol went down with a sprained ankle on March 14 at New Orleans.
The Lakers were 15-3 since Gasol entered the lineup on Feb. 5, but including the loss to the Hornets—during which he played just two minutes—Los Angeles is 4-5 without him.
Losses to New Orleans, Houston and Golden State, all Western playoff contenders, weren’t much of a surprise. But the Lakers lost 108-95 at home to Charlotte on Wednesday, then followed that up with a 114-111 loss to Memphis on Friday - their third straight at home - despite Bryant’s 53 points.
“We lost to two teams that thankfully we won’t be seeing in the playoffs,” said Bryant, who had 47 after three quarters. “I don’t think it’s dire straits by any stretch of the imagination, but still we got to buck up here.”
Bryant is averaging 37.2 points in his last five meetings with the Wizards (38-34). He had 30 in the Lakers’ 103-91 win in Washington on Feb. 3.
Gasol may return against the Wizards, but the Lakers are currently also facing other injury issues. Bryant has been playing with a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger, and Andrew Bynum has been out since mid-January with a knee injury. Bynum may not return until the start of the playoffs.
They took another injury hit on Wednesday when guard Derek Fisher suffered a partial tear of a tendon in his right foot. The injury typically requires 6-to-8 weeks to heal, but Fisher is playing through it—he played 24 minutes against Memphis and scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
“I thought Fish wasn’t getting a good lift off his shot,” coach Phil Jackson said. “He looked like he’s hesitant out there.”
The Wizards are no strangers to dealing with major injuries - Gilbert Arenas has been out since mid-November after having knee surgery and Caron Butler has missed 20 games this season with hip problems.
But Butler - who spent the 2004-05 season with Los Angeles - has been back for the last nine games and Washington has started to play much better. The Wizards have won five of six and seven of nine to climb to the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards won for the fourth time in their last five road games on Friday, coming back from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat Sacramento 114-108 behind reserve Darius Songaila’s season-high 17 points against his former team.
“It’s nice to come in your old arena and play well,” said Songaila, who averages only 6.0 points. “Winning is always tough on the road.”
Butler is averaging 17.6 points since his return, but it’s been Antawn Jamison who has benefited from having another scoring presence in the lineup. Jamison is averaging 22.9 points and 10.6 rebounds since Butler’s return.
Washington’s most recent road game against Los Angeles was a memorable one— it won 147-141 in overtime on Dec. 17, 2006, as Arenas had a career-high 60 points. Bryant had 45 in the loss.