David West scored 30 points for the Indiana Pacers as they stuffed the NBA… (Doug McSchooler / Associated…)
The Lakers won three of four games in Week 19, climbing above .500 (33-31) and into a potential playoff seeding.
The coming week will be a difficult one with three out of four on the road, including games on successive nights, in Orlando and Atlanta. They'll visit one of the league's top defensive teams in the Indiana Pacers before coming home on Sunday to play the Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers gained a game but are still three losses below the cumulative predictions for weeks 1-19.
Tuesday at Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard makes his return to Orlando on Tuesday in what will undoubtedly be an emotional game. The Lakers center left the Magic under difficult circumstances. He should expect to be roundly booed throughout the game.
The Magic are 18-46, the second-worst record in the NBA ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Orlando won at Staples Center in December, 113-103, thanks to a late Lakers' collapse. Because of losses like that, the Lakers are still fighting for a playoff spot in mid-March. A win in Orlando is all but a requirement.
Wednesday at Atlanta Hawks
The Lakers began March by edging the Hawks at Staples Center, 99-98. Kobe Bryant hit a layup with nine seconds left and the Lakers forced Josh Smith into a turnover to seal the victory.
The Hawks (34-28) are in seventh place in the East with a 19-11 home record. They're solid defensively and one of the league's best passing teams.
Drawing Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back will be a challenge for the Lakers.
Friday at Indiana Pacers
The Pacers won an ugly game at Staples Center early in November. The Lakers shot just 31.6% from the field, falling, 79-77, on a George Hill layup with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.
Bryant had a relatively efficient scoring night with 40 points on 28 shot attempts, but he turned the ball over 10 times against Indiana's tough perimeter defenders.
Steve Nash and Steve Blake were out with injury. Point guards Darius Morris and Chris Duhon combined to score one point on 0-for-9 shooting from the field with just three assists.
Dwight Howard missed nine free throws.
Suffice it to say, the Lakers will give a better performance in Indiana - but will it be enough to win against the 39-24 Pacers?
Sunday vs. Sacramento Kings
The Kings always seem to play the Lakers well. At just 22-43 on the season, last place in the Western Conference, Sacramento is certainly vulnerable.
The Lakers won in early November, 103-90, but DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson (now with the Houston Rockets) were out with suspensions.
Ten days later the Kings won handily in Sacramento, 113-97 -- another game without Nash and Blake.
Given how difficult the three-game road trip should be for the Lakers, a win against the Kings at Staples Center will be imperative.