Looking to strengthen their hold on the No. 8 seed in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers face the Phoenix Suns in a tough road match-up Monday night as both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol sit out with injuries.
Still needing victories to hold off the Utah Jazz and secure a postseason appearance, L.A. looks to snag another short-handed victory Monday as its stars get healthy for the stretch run.
Initially considered possibilities for Monday's game, Bryant will miss the game as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain, while Gasol's scheduled return for Monday's game has been delayed as he deals with pain in his right foot.
With all of that said, the injuries haven't exactly stopped the Lakers from playing well.
The Miami Heat's winning ways are getting all of the attention these days, but the Lakers' play in recent weeks cannot be ignored as the postseason looms. With Dwight Howard showing signs of life and Mike D'Antoni's system starting to bear fruit, the Lakers have won 11 of their past 14 games since the All-Star break.
L.A. is still a team with flaws, especially when Bryant's absence shoves Antawn Jamison into a key scoring role, but Phoenix is a good match-up with its porous perimeter defense.
While the Suns can still be dangerous when Goran Dragic is on and their bigs are active, as they showed in San Antonio last month, Phoenix simply can't stop three-point shooters. No team in the NBA has allowed a higher percentage of shots from beyond the arc to go in than Phoenix at 40.1 percent.
For a Los Angeles team that's grown to love the three-point shot in recent weeks, this bodes well. In a win over Sacramento on Sunday without Kobe or Gasol, the Lakers knocked down 12 of 28 (43 percent) from beyond the arc to power its effort.
And as quiet as Jamison has been this season, his recent play has Silver Screen and Roll, SB Nation's Lakers blog, wondering if he can be the stretch-4 that D'Antoni craves. After putting up 26 points on the Kings, it's something to ponder.
The Suns don't have much to play for in the remaining weeks of the season with a postseason spot out of reach, but Bright Side of the Sun notes that a Lakers playoff appearance would prevent Phoenix from receiving L.A.'s first round pick this year as part of the Steve Nash trade. From that perspective, a Suns win would be nice.
Monday's game begins at 10 p.m. ET.