Lakers guard Kobe Bryant steals the ball from Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers (14-14) visit the Denver Nuggets (15-14) Wednesday night, playing on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the New York Knicks (100-94) on Christmas Day.
The Nuggets also played Tuesday in the nightcap at Staples Center, losing 112-100 to the Clippers. Denver is a half-game ahead of the Lakers in the standings.
The two teams met previously this season on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles as the Lakers won easily (122-103) despite playing without Steve Nash. Dwight Howard scored 28 points while collecting 20 rebounds. Antawn Jamison had his best game as a Laker with 33 points and 12 boards.
The scheduled back-to-back may be harder on the visiting Lakers, even if they arrived ahead of the younger, more athletic Nuggets on Tuesday.
The Lakers have looked rejuvenated since Nash returned from a leg injury but he hasn't had to defend a point guard like Ty Lawson.
Lawson is averaging 14 points and 6.9 assists a game. The Lakers are still evolving and Lawson may be able to exploit defensive vulnerabilities, especially with his quickness.
Nash has led the Lakers' offense to two straight comeback wins since his return. Just as Lawson may be a problem for the Lakers, so too should Nash for the Nuggets.
Andre Iguodala remains one of the best individual defenders on Kobe Bryant. When the two met in November, Bryant scored just 14 points on 5-15 shooting (although he also dished eight assists).
Iguodala is also a capable playmaker, scorer and all-purpose player. Bryant has referred to him as "Pippenesque."
Metta World Peace has been one of the most consistent Lakers this season. Offensively he's become a steady contributor at 13.9 points per game.
World Peace will be needed defensively, especially against Nuggets small forward Danilo Gallinari.
The Lakers have a real chance to extend their winning streak to six games, leapfrogging the Nuggets in the standings.
Playing in the high altitude of Denver on the second night of a back-to-back may be too much for the veteran Lakers. Pencil this one in as a victory for the Nuggets.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.