Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (3) talks strategy with newly acquired forward… (Nathan Denette / Associated…)
The Lakers (31-31) return home after a two-game road trip to face the Toronto Raptors (24-38) on Friday night at Staples Center.
With a victory, the Lakers can climb above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5 early in the season. Two of the three teams they're chasing play each other Friday (Houston and Golden State), which means a Lakers' win would make up one full game in the standings against one of the two.
The Raptors initially flourished after the Rudy Gay trade but have since stumbled. They're 7-1/2 games behind the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto still has playoff hopes but they're thin.
Jose Calderon always seemed to be the thorn in the Lakers' side with the Raptors . . . but now he's on the Detroit Pistons as part of the Gay trade.
Calderon led the Raptors to a 108-103 win over the Lakers in January with 22 points and nine assists.
Gay has averaged a team-high 19.8 points per game for the Raptors in 15 appearances. He's shooting just 39% from the field but has hit multiple game-winners for the club. Gay is also collecting 2.3 steals a game for Toronto.
The Lakers will counter Gay with Metta World Peace. While Gay's quickness can make him a difficult cover, World Peace needs to make sure the Raptors' forward shoots a low percentage.
Earl Clark will probably get minutes on Gay as well.
Offensively, World Peace changes the Lakers' offense when he's hitting shots. When the team can't space the floor, they struggle to score efficiently.
Kyle Lowry isn't having the best year of his career but he's an explosive point guard who can set up his teammates, score in bunches and defend.
On the season he's averaging 12.5 points and six assists while shooting 40.1% from three-point range.
Steve Nash scored 16 points with nine assists in the losing effort to the Raptors earlier in the year. The Lakers need Nash both as an outside shooter and offensive facilitator.
Lowry played just 18 minutes in their first meeting, scoring eight -- but that was before the Calderon/Gay swap.
The Lakers understand how badly they need to win to stay in the playoff hunt. Friday will be a difficult one but it's a game they should (and need to) win.
Lakers erase 25-point deficit in second half to beat the Hornets
Jerry West says Lakers will make playoffs, 'worst is behind them'
Lakers just 2-13 against top five teams in the Western Conference
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.