The Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Spurs are in first place in the Western Conference with a 6-1 record. The Lakers, at 3-4, can close the gap to just two games with the win.
Tim Duncan is still a true force for the Spurs, averaging 18.9 points, 9.7 points and 2.4 blocks per game.
Five Spurs are averaging double figures, and seven are scoring at least 8.3 points per game.
The Lakers will be playing without Steve Nash (leg) and Steve Blake (abdominal strain). That creates a challenge for Chris Duhon and Darius Morris against an always difficult San Antonio squad.
Dwight Howard scored 23 points and collected 18 boards in his last game, against the Sacramento Kings. He'll be challenged by the size and skill of the Spurs.
So far this season, despite recovering from the back injury, Howard has averaged 20.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
Boris Diaw may be listed as the Spurs' center but Howard against Duncan harks back to the days when Shaquille O'Neal used to battle against the Spurs' All-Star big.
Kawhi Leonard is emerging as an offensive weapon, but for a second-year player, he's already a polished defender.
Leonard, along with Danny Green and Manu Ginobili, will have to take on Kobe Bryant defensively.
Meanwhile, Bryant is having the most efficient season of his career as a scorer, shooting 53.8% from the field, 43.3% from three-point range and 91.7% from the line.
The X-factor for the Lakers is Morris, who could get serious minutes in the absence of Nash and Blake.
Once the Lakers get fully on track, they may have the power to challenge the Spurs, despite San Antonio's greater depth.
However, on Tuesday, the Lakers may simply be over-matched and unprepared.
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