The Los Angeles Lakers have lost four games in a row for the first time since April 2007, Pau Gasol(notes) has a strained hamstring and Andrew Bynum(notes) is still a few weeks away from returning from his latest knee injury.
A loss to the stumbling Sacramento Kings at Staples Center might do the trick, but the Lakers will be looking for an eighth consecutive win against their Pacific Division rivals Friday night as they look to snap out of their recent doldrums.
Los Angeles (13-6) seemed to take personal offense to the idea it might not be favored to win a third consecutive championship after the cast Miami assembled in the offseason.
The Lakers averaged 111.5 points in winning 13 of their first 15 games, but haven’t cracked triple digits in their past five. Los Angeles let a seven-point lead slip away with seven minutes to play in a 109-99 defeat at Houston on Wednesday.
Bryant, who had a game-high 27 points, wanted nothing to do with the notion that his team isn’t as good as it initially thought.
“How do you know how good we think we are? We’re fine,” Bryant said. “Are we going to win a three-peat today? Probably not, but the (expletive) is not played today.”
His coach agrees.
“Concern? It’s way too early in the season, and we’ve got a long ways to go,” Jackson said. “We’ve got some guys struggling and need to get better.”
Getting Gasol some rest might be a start. The All-Star big man averaged 22.8 points during the Lakers’ first 14 games but just 13.8 while shooting just 40.0 percent in his last five contests. He also tweaked his left hamstring Tuesday in Memphis, and said it continued to bother him Wednesday.
Gasol has averaged 23.3 points and shot 63.7 percent during Los Angeles’ seven-game winning streak against the Kings (4-12), who certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him joining Bynum on the sidelines.
Sacramento has lost 11 of 12, a stretch that began with a 112-100 home loss to the Lakers on Nov. 3 as Bryant finished with 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The Kings are averaging just 83.8 points during their latest skid, which hit five after a 107-98 home loss to Indiana on Tuesday.
The KIngs also have concerns in the frontcourt. Starting center Samuel Dalembert(notes) is questionable with right knee tendinitis, while rookie DeMarcus Cousins(notes) was kicked out of practice Monday for unspecified disciplinary actions.
Cousins seemed to at least respond against the Pacers, scoring a season-high 20 points.
If Dalembert can’t go, Cousins - who had 11 points in 20 foul-plagued minutes in the loss to the Lakers last month - will start.