Golden State forward David Lee, left, and guard Stephen Curry chase after… (Chuck Burton / Associated…)
The Lakers (42-37) host the Golden State Warriors (45-34) on Friday night at Staples Center.
The Warriors played Thursday night at home in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Andrew Bogut will not travel with the team due to a sprained ankle.
A Lakers' victory would lock in the head-to-head tiebreaker, which would only come into play if the Lakers don't lose again and the Warriors drop their final two.
Bogut's injury might change the equation but the Lakers are still trying to preserve their tenuous hold on the eighth seed. A single loss would give the Utah Jazz a chance to knock the Lakers out of the playoff picture.
In March, the Warriors held off a late Lakers comeback in Oakland, with big games from guards Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack.
It took everything the Lakers had to win two straight against the New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers. They have no room to let down against Golden State.
Kobe Bryant has been playing entire games in the absence of Steve Nash, who has been struggling with hip/hamstring issues.
In addition to carrying a heavy-scoring load, Bryant has become the team's primary playmaker. Against the Warriors, he's going to have contend with Golden State's backcourt. Defensively he'll need to help slow Curry, Thompson and Jack.
Curry and Thompson are tremendous shooters, and Jack always seems to kill the Lakers.
Of course, they'll all have to deal with Bryant as well.
David Lee had 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Lakers in the two teams' last meeting. Against the Lakers' tandem of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, Lee would normally benefit from the presence of Bogut.
Instead he'll likely be paired with rookie Festus Ezeli.
Regardless, Lee is a threat -- and the Warriors need to have a big game.
In recent games, Gasol has become the Lakers' primary inside player -- both scoring in the post and making plays. Gasol's lobs to Howard have become a staple.
The Lakers need their best game to make sure they don't slip against the Warriors.
With Bogut, the Warriors have the size to challenge the Lakers. They're still dangerous without him, but a little bit less so.
The Lakers may have expended themselves on their recent back-to-back -- even with a day's rest that Golden State didn't get.
Regardless, the Lakers can't lose any of their final three.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.