Warriors guard Steph Curry drives during an exhibition game last month. (George Nikitin / Associated…)
The Lakers visit the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, in what could be the first appearance of Steve Nash since he suffered a leg fracture in the second game of the season.
Golden State (18-9) has been a pleasant surprise this season, standing comfortably in fifth place in the Western Conference despite playing without both Andrew Bogut (ankle) and Brandon Rush (knee).
The two teams met earlier this season at Staples Center, soon after Bogut and Rush went down. It was Bernie Bickerstaff's first game as interim-head coach and the Lakers unloaded on the Warriors 101-77.
The Lakers (12-14) are currently 5 1/2 games behind Golden State but Saturday is the second of four meetings. A Lakers sweep over the final three would shrink that to just 2 1/2 games.
Should the Lakers have any expectation to climb into the top five in the West, a win on Saturday is imperative.
Assuming Steve Nash returns, he'll be playing against one of the best shooting point guards in the league in Stephen Curry. Nash isn't known to be much of a defender and his rust after so many weeks on the sidelines would certainly give Curry the advantage.
Once Nash is up to speed, the Lakers should improve both offensively and defensively. With the veteran point guard running the team, turnovers should decrease as the Lakers finally run an organized offense.
If Nash doesn't play, Pau Gasol paired against David Lee would be the matchup to watch. Lee is having a tremendous year offensively but Gasol's size could be a deterrent.
The Warriors have one of the best backup point guards in the league in Jarrett Jack. He always seems to play well against the Lakers.
Coach Mike D'Antoni has asked second-year guard Darius Morris to be a defensive spark off the bench. He'll have his hands full if matched up against Jack or Curry.
The Warriors played on Friday night at home, which gives the Lakers a slight advantage.
Golden State wants the win but the Lakers need it; that could be the difference that takes the Lakers to four-straight wins.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.