Hornets guard Eric Gordon goes up for a layup against the Lakers. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
The Lakers (40-37) host the New Orleans Hornets (27-50) on Tuesday in a game that is vital to their playoff chances.
The Hornets are one of the worst teams in the league, but they're still playing to win games, taking five of their last 10. They gave the Lakers a true scare in early March, pulling ahead by 25 in New Orleans before the Lakers staged a tremendous comeback.
Steve Nash is doubtful for Tuesday, with hamstring and hip soreness.
With the Utah Jazz ahead in the standings by half a game, the Lakers simply can't afford to lose to the Hornets. And not only do they need to beat the Hornets , they must win the following night in Portland to stay close to the Jazz.
With 16.5 points a game, Eric Gordon is leading New Orleans this season. In two games against the Lakers, he averaged 21.5 points while shooting 55.6% from three-point range.
Gordon will match up against Kobe Bryant, who will slide back to shooting guard with the expected return of Metta World Peace (ahead of schedule) from a knee injury.
Bryant has been playing heavy minutes with Nash and World Peace out.
At 6-foot-3, Gordon is at a disadvantage against Bryant, but the Lakers star has been playing heavy minutes with Nash and World Peace out.
The key for the Lakers will be getting an early lead and holding it in order to keep minutes down.
The Hornets have a lot of weapons to challenge the Lakers, including Ryan Anderson with his outside shot. Likewise, Greivis Vasquez is a difficult point guard to contain (9.2 assists a game), and Anthony Davis is young and athletic. Robin Lopez has good size to challenge Dwight Howard.
The Hornets lose more often than they win but they won't be a pushover on Tuesday. Anderson in particular is a tough cover. Pau Gasol at power forward just doesn't have the speed or mobility -- although Earl Clark could draw Anderson.
The X-factor for the Lakers is their desperation. Another loss probably knocks them out of the playoffs. The Jazz may or may not lose multiple games, or they may not lose at all, which means the Lakers are already drawing dead.
Falling to the Hornets would likely be the end of the season for the Lakers.
Lakers: Week 24 predictions
Steve Nash doubtful for Tuesday against New Orleans Hornets
Metta World Peace could play Tuesday, much earlier than expected
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.