After enduring a rare losing streak, the Los Angeles Lakers believe a road win over a Pacific Division rival is just what they needed to regain their confidence.
The Western Conference-leading Lakers look to build on that victory and continue their dominance over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night at Oracle Arena.
Los Angeles (48-18) has looked poised to repeat as the NBA champion for much of the season before a three-game skid earlier this month - its first in more than two years - seemed to knock the team off course. The Lakers snapped the losing streak with an uninspiring two-point win over slumping Toronto on Tuesday, but were still in need of a more impressive victory to reclaim their swagger.
Los Angeles got just that with Friday’s 102-96 win at Phoenix, which entered with one of the league’s best home records at 24-8. All five Lakers starters scored at least 15 and the team withstood a late rally to end a four-game road slide.
“At some point we have to step it up,” Pau Gasol(notes) said. “I think it was a perfect opportunity for us to step it up and play a good game and have a nice win and get ourselves going, because we have been kind of struggling for the most part, especially on the road.”
Kobe Bryant(notes) was slowed by an injured hand but still finished with team highs of 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. The 12-time All-Star was encouraged by the team’s physical presence on defense and ability to hold the league’s highest-scoring team more than 13 points below its average.
“We don’t like giving up layups or giving up easy opportunities,” Bryant said. “We’re just playing hard.”
The Lakers, three games ahead of Denver atop the West, will face another defensive test with a game against the high-flying Warriors (18-47), who average 107.4 points.
Los Angeles hasn’t had much trouble matching Golden State’s up-tempo offense, averaging 121.0 points in winning the last eight meetings. The only time the Lakers, who have won 17 of 19 over the Warriors, have failed to reach 114 points during the win streak was Feb. 16, when Bryant sat out with a sore left ankle in a 104-94 victory.
The last time he faced Golden State, Bryant had a season-high 44 points with 11 assists in a 124-118 home win Dec. 29.
The Warriors, who haven’t defeated Los Angeles since a 115-111 victory March 23, 2008, beat Toronto 124-112 Saturday to snap a six-game skid. Stephen Curry(notes) had 35 points and 10 assists, while Monta Ellis(notes) scored 31 for Golden State, which set a season high with 16 3-pointers.
Ellis was playing for only the second time after sitting out six contests with a back injury, recording his first 30-point game since scoring a career-best 46 against Dallas on Feb. 3. Curry came within one point of his career high, and coach Don Nelson was pleased with the performance of his top two playmakers.
“It’s great to see when they share the ball and take care of each other when they’re open,” Nelson said.
Curry and Ellis, though, haven’t had much success against the Lakers this season.
Curry has averaged 13.0 points on 34.8 percent shooting - including 2 of 16 from 3-point range - in the three games, while Ellis averaged 20.0 points in two games - 5.6 less than his team-leading average.