Chris Paul drives around Kings guard Aaron Brooks. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers won two of three in Week 8 with a big win against the New York Knicks on Christmas Day and a big loss to the Denver Nuggets the day after. With Steve Nash and Pau Gasol fully back in the flow, the Lakers look like a very different basketball team from the ugly stretch of just a few weeks ago.
At 15-15, the Lakers are closing in on a top-eight seed in the Western Conference although they start the week in 10th place. All told, the Lakers are still four losses behind the cumulative predictions for weeks 1-9.
The Lakers owe the Nuggets after the loss in Denver, the Philadelphia 76ers are struggling but the game of the week, by a large margin, is Lakers at Clippers.
Jan. 1 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Lakers were able to take out the Sixers in Philadelphia without Nash and Gasol on Dec. 16, 111-98. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 34 points while five-other Lakers hit double figures including Metta World Peace, Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris.
The 76ers played without Jrue Holiday (foot sprain), and of course Andrew Bynum (knees) who has yet to play this season.
Holiday is the team's leading scorer at 18.6 a game with 8.9 assists. As a group the Sixers average just 93.2 points a game.
Philadelphia may have Holiday back but the Lakers have Nash and Gasol.
Jan. 4 at Clippers
The Clippers have won a stunning 17 straight games but have two opportunities to lose before they see the Lakers.
If the Clippers' streak does hit 19 with back-to-back games on the road in Denver and Golden State, the Lakers could be their 20th consecutive victim.
The two local teams met early in the season on November 2, shortly after Nash went down with the leg injury. The Clippers won by 10 (105-95) with a big third quarter, overcoming Bryant's 40 points.
Of course the Lakers have gone through many changes since that game including a new head coach and vastly different rotation.
This is a winnable game for the Lakers but it's also one they'll need to play extremely well to get.
Jan. 6 vs. Denver Nuggets
The Lakers beat the Nuggets handily on Nov. 30 but got beaten badly in Denver on Dec. 26.
Back-to-back and travel to Denver won't be a problem for the Lakers in January. The Nuggets are still a young, deep, athletic squad but it's probably safe to say that Corey Brewer won't come off the bench to hit 6-7 threes for 27 points on Sunday.
The Lakers were still in the game when Dwight Howard was ejection for his flagrant foul on Kenneth Faried, but they were behind and playing tired all night.