Lakers-76ers Preview

The Associated Press

Despite the efforts of the NBA's scoring leader, the Los Angeles Lakers have sputtered along without their starting point guard.

The Philadelphia 76ers also struggled without their top playmaker last time out, and could be without him again.

While the Lakers try to win back-to-back games for the first time in nearly four weeks, the host 76ers look to avoid their first three-game skid when the teams meet Sunday night.

Philadelphia native Kobe Bryant, who tops the league at 29.3 points per game, scored 30 on 9-of-29 shooting as Los Angeles (10-14) snapped a four-game losing streak with Friday's 102-96 win at Washington.

Bryant hasn't received much help from the point guard spot while starter Steve Nash and reserve Steve Blake have been out with injuries. Nash (broken leg) has appeared in only two games, and is expected to return to practice next week. Blake (pulled abdominal) isn't likely to be back until at least late January.

Chris Duhon has filled in and averaged 6.6 points and 6.0 assists while the Lakers have gone 2-5 in his starts.

Los Angeles, which hasn't won two in a row since a season-best three-game run from Nov. 16-20, has also dropped five of seven without power forward Pau Gasol, who is expected to miss his eighth straight game with knee tendinitis.

"Every good offense is a rhythm, and our rhythm is offbeat right now,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's like we've got two left shoes, trying to dance.''

The 76ers (12-11) can't afford to be without Jrue Holiday for very long after he missed Friday's 95-85 loss at Indiana because of a sprained right foot. With Philadelphia already without former Laker Andrew Bynum (bruised right knee), coach Doug Collins opted to keep Holiday on the bench rather than risk further injury.

Holiday, who is a game-time decision, leads the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game and ranks third in the league with 8.9 assists.

"We're erring on the side of caution,'' Collins said. "I don't want him out there playing on one foot and getting back spasms of something because he's playing on one foot. ... I'm hoping it's going to be a few days is what I'm saying."

If he can't go, Philadelphia is expected to let Evan Turner play the point and start Nick Young for the second straight contest. Turner had 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Young had eight points on 4-of-14 shooting against the Pacers.

Spencer Hawes looks to continue his improved play after finishing with 18 points. The 7-foot-1 center is averaging 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in his last three games.

Philadelphia is averaging 89.7 points in going 2-5 this month, but might be able to find some open looks against the Lakers, who had allowed an average of 111.8 points during its skid before holding offensively challenged Washington in check.

"We're not there yet, we're not even close. We're not close to being a good team,'' D'Antoni said. "But can you build on it? I hope so.''

Dwight Howard, who had 12 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks against the Wizards, could be a factor against a 76ers defense that was outscored 40-26 in the paint Friday.

Howard has averaged 21.8 points and 15.6 rebounds in his last five games at Philadelphia.

The Lakers lost 95-90 in Philadelphia in the only meeting last season, snapping a four-game winning streak in the series.

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