Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant… (Christina House / For The…)
The Lakers won two of three games in Week 18, climbing back to .500 (30-30) for the first time since their loss on New Year's Day to the Philadelphia 76ers.
With 22 games remaining, the Lakers are just three games behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors (33-27) and 2½ behind both the Utah Jazz (32-27) and Houston Rockets (33-28). The Lakers still play the Warriors twice and Houston once, with the tiebreaker still up for grabs. The Jazz have the advantage over the Lakers after completing the season series up 2-1.
Overall, the Lakers are still four losses below the cumulative predictions for weeks 1-18.
Tuesday at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Lakers had one of their best wins of the season in late January when they beat the Thunder at Staples Center 105-96.
Kobe Bryant had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds but the Lakers had a healthy Pau Gasol contributing 17 points off the bench. Gasol is still out, rehabbing a torn plantar fascia (foot).
The Thunder have the third-best record in the NBA at 43-16. They've lost just four games all year at home.
With a two-game win-streak and the goal to climb above .500, the Lakers may simply find a visit to Oklahoma City as too much of a challenge.
There's a slight chance Serge Ibaka could face a suspension for a low blow on Blake Griffin on Sunday, which could change the complexion of the game but that's far from a certainty.
Wednesday at New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets are a woeful 21-39 but the Lakers will have to beat them in New Orleans on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Lakers have beaten the Hornets twice already but a recent victory on Jan. 29 was tight (111-106). Former Clippers guard Eric Gordon led all scorers with 25 points on just 12 shot attempts.
Rookie forward Anthony Davis is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Center Jason Smith is out with a torn labrum (shoulder).
Friday vs. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors (23-37) won a number of big games after acquiring forward Rudy Gay. Since then, they've fallen on hard times - currently on a four-game losing streak.
The Lakers always have seemed to have trouble with Toronto, but at the hand of Jose Calderon -- who is now in Detroit with the Pistons.
Toronto will be visiting the Lakers on the end of a four-game road trip. They're not a very good team but they're capable of big games.
The Lakers need to win both against the Hornets and Raptors to successfully continue their pursuit of a playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Friday vs. Chicago Bulls
The Lakers were beaten soundly by the Bulls in Chicago (34-26) on Jan. 21.
Kirk Hinrich was the leading scorer with 22 points on just 11 shots. Joakim Noah had six blocks along with 13 rebounds.
Dwight Howard struggled with five fouls and four turnovers, scoring just eight points in almost 30 minutes. Pau Gasol had a solid game with 15 points and 12 rebounds but he won't be available to face the Bulls this week.
The Lakers are a lot better now than they were over a month ago but the Bulls will be a real challenge.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.