With the All-Star break behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers are unquestionably focused on one thing - defending their championship. When Kobe Bryant(notes) will return to help that pursuit remains a question.
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(notes) had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Pau Gasol(notes) 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.”
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(notes), sixth in the NBA with 26.2 points per game, is questionable Wednesday with a sprained left knee, while Corey Maggette(notes) could be out for the third straight game with a dislocated left ring finger.
If Ellis and Maggette can’t play, rookie Stephen Curry(notes) 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 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(notes) 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.