Lakers-Nuggets Preview

The Associated Press

After another big game from Kobe Bryant helped them continue their surge, the Los Angeles Lakers prepare for one of their toughest road tests since it began.

The Denver Nuggets, however, could be without their leading scorer on Monday night when they try to slow down the streaking Lakers and win their ninth straight home game.

Following a stretch of 10 losses in 12 games to open 2013, the Lakers (28-29) fell to a season-worst eight games under .500 on Jan. 23.

Los Angeles, though, has stormed back into the Western Conference playoff picture with 11 wins in 15 games, the latest a 103-99 victory at Dallas on Sunday. The win moved the Lakers within 2 1/2 games of idle Houston for the eighth spot in the West.

Bryant enters this contest in a serious groove with 78 points on 28-of-44 (63.6 percent) shooting in his last two games. He had 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Mavericks while passing the 31,000-point mark for his career.

"He's been the best player in my decade,'' said Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki. "I've been in the NBA a long time and he's the one player I love to watch.''

Bryant finished with 40 points in Denver on Dec. 26, but the Nuggets scored 69 in the second half en route to a 126-114 victory that began a stretch of eight straight road losses for Los Angeles.

This time, the Lakers hope to prove they're a different team and capture their sixth win in eight road games following the season-worst skid. That doesn't figure to be an easy task against a Denver team that has won 23 of 26 at the Pepsi Center, including eight straight by an average of 12.7 points.

The Nuggets (35-22) had lost four of five - with each loss coming on the road - before bouncing back with a 113-99 victory at league-worst Charlotte on Saturday.

Now they're focused on catching Memphis for the No. 4 seed and earning home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

"If we get to 53 or 54 (wins) I think that we'll get that fourth seed in the playoffs," guard Ty Lawson said. "But we know it's going to be a grind for the next couple weeks, couple months.''

Lawson, who had a team-high 20 points against the Bobcats, has averaged 26.2 while shooting 54.5 percent from the field in his last six games. He had 21 points and 10 assists to lead Denver to a 112-105 win in Los Angeles on Jan. 6.

Danilo Gallinari, however, finished with just six points for the second consecutive game on Saturday while playing through a thigh bruise. The team's leading scorer (16.9 ppg) is considered questionable for Monday.

Gallinari has scored at least 19 in each of the three meetings with Los Angeles this season.

The Nuggets rank near the top of the league in home scoring (108.7), and have averaged 113.7 against the Lakers while allowing that same amount.

Reserve Antawn Jamison led Los Angeles with a season-high 33 points and 12 rebounds in a 122-103 home win over the Nuggets on Nov. 30.

Dwight Howard has totaled 42 points and 46 rebounds in the two home meetings, but finished with just 12 and seven, respectively, in the last meeting in Denver.

The Nuggets have won seven of 10 at home against the Lakers, including the first round of the 2012 playoffs.

What to Read Next