Lakers-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers are under .500 again, and poor play on the road continues to be a problem.

A meeting with the New Orleans Hornets gives them an opportunity to change that.

The Lakers will try to return to the break-even point Wednesday night and continue their dominance of the last-place Hornets.

Expected to be a leading title contender, Los Angeles (30-31) is instead one of the league's biggest disappointments, sitting 2 1/2 games back of Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Lakers have lost 20 of 30 road games, including four of the last six, a stretch during which they've surrendered 109.3 points. In contrast, they have limited opponents to 97.8 per contest during a 10-2 run at home.

Los Angeles fell again on the road Tuesday, losing 122-105 to Oklahoma City. However, the team avoided what would've been a devastating blow when Kobe Bryant returned from a right elbow injury that forced him to leave the game for roughly 4 1/2 minutes.

"Every time you try to bend your elbow or extend it, there's a little resistance and there's a lot of pain," Bryant said.

The Lakers have already spent parts of this season without center Dwight Howard, guard Steve Nash and forward Pau Gasol - all of them All-Stars - but Bryant is planning to stay in the lineup.

"I'm going to keep playing," Bryant said. "This is the critical part of the season."

Bryant sure is performing like it, averaging 34.0 points on 54.8 percent shooting - 14 of 29 from beyond the arc - over the past six games after overcoming the elbow injury to score 30 versus the Thunder.

Facing New Orleans (21-40), which is at the bottom of the Southwest Division, may be just what the Lakers need to begin a strong stretch.

They've won 15 of the past 17 meetings with the Hornets, and kept that dominance going by beating them for a ninth straight time Jan. 29, winning 111-106 at home.

Los Angeles has also won five straight in New Orleans, including a 103-87 rout on Dec. 5.

The Hornets have dropped six of eight after squandering a 17-point, second-half deficit en route to a 105-102 loss to Orlando on Monday.

"It was terrible. There's no other way to slice it," coach Monty Williams said. "We gave up 69 points in (the second) half against a team that played last night and had a two-hour flight. That, to me, is not something we should be proud of at all. Even if we had won that game I would still be upset about our defensive effort."

Williams should be pleased with Anthony Davis, who had 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks against the Magic in his first game since missing two with a left shoulder sprain.

The rookie forward had 18 points in the most recent meeting with the Lakers, but was out with an ankle injury for the latest home matchup.

Ryan Anderson had 31 points and nine boards in Davis' place Dec. 5. Back on the bench, the forward managed 13 points and two rebounds Monday.

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