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Lakers-Bobcats Preview

AP - Sports

While a win didn't come easy in the first meeting, a trip to Charlotte could provide the Los Angeles Lakers with an opportunity to get back on track.

The Lakers will try to rebound from their worst loss of the season and win for the seventh time in nine games on Friday night when they continue a seven-game road trip against the league-worst Bobcats.

The Lakers had won six of seven - including three straight without Dwight Howard - to move within three games of Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles (23-27), however, had that streak snapped in a 116-95 loss at red-hot Boston on Thursday.

Howard returned to the starting lineup after being sidelined with a sore shoulder, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

"There were a couple times where I felt (the shoulder pain),'' he said, "but I just tried not to think about it."

Depending on how his shoulder responds, Howard could be in line for a big game against Charlotte's suspect frontcourt.

He finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds as the Lakers overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to beat the Bobcats 101-100 on Dec. 18.

Kobe Bryant scored four of his 30 points in the final 1:26 to key that victory, and has averaged 32.5 points in seven career trips to Charlotte.

The 15-time All-Star had a team-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting against the Celtics, but finished without an assist after averaging 9.3 over his previous seven games.

Forward Metta World Peace contributed just five points on 2-of-13 shooting against the Celtics after serving a one-game suspension for grabbing Detroit's Brandon Knight and striking him in the jaw on Sunday.

The Lakers shot just 5 for 23 from beyond the arc, and they've hit 29.6 percent from 3-point range in their last five games.

"Disappointing performance, start to finish," guard Steve Nash said.

Los Angeles may be able to bounce back against the Bobcats (11-37), who return home after giving up 108.0 points per game over the final four of their 0-5 road trip.

Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap wasn't pleased with his team's finish to the trip following a 122-95 loss at Cleveland on Wednesday.

"There are three or four of those that happen to you,'' said Dunlap, whose team has lost 11 of 13. "They're not pretty. Obviously the physical effort is unacceptable. We don't like that.''

Guard Kemba Walker, Charlotte's leading scorer (17.5 ppg), will try to shake off one of his worst performances of the season after scoring five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

Walker had 28 in the December loss to the Lakers.

Charlotte, though, has averaged just 89.4 points - off their season mark of 94.5 per game - during its five-game losing streak.

It might help getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back after the rookie missed the last two games with a concussion he sustained last Saturday in Houston. Kidd-Gilchrist practiced on Thursday, but is likely a game-time decision.

While the Lakers have won three straight in the series, they've lost the last three in Charlotte by an average of 15.0 points.

They'll be without forward Pau Gasol, who missed his first game on Thursday since being sidelined indefinitely with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

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