Lakers vs. Hornets preview: L.A. tries to keep pace in playoff race

USA TODAY Sports

With the season in its final days, the Lakers can't afford a loss as they try to chase down the Jazz for the No. 8 spot out West.

After falling a 1/2 game behind Utah with their loss to the Clippers on Sunday, the Lakers have no margin for error in the final week of the regular season. Since the Jazz have the tiebreaker, L.A. has to finish with one fewer loss if they're going to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. As a result, their game with the Hornets on Tuesday is a must-win.

New Orleans, meanwhile, is slinking into the end of the regular season with nothing much to play for. However, they have enough young talent on hand to challenge the Lakers. The gae will be broadcast nationally at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBATV.

L.A. will likely be without Steve Nash, who has missed the last three games with hamstring and hip issues. The Lakers' injury issues have forced Mike D'Antoni to dramatically shorten his rotation, with only seven players getting steady minutes. Kobe Bryant has shouldered the heaviest burden, averaging over 46 minutes in the last four games. With Nash out and Metta World Peace back but not starting, L.A. will need Kobe to be their primary playmaker and scorer on the perimeter, while also serving as their perimeter stopper if the game is close late.

The shooting guard matchup could end up deciding the game, as Kobe will be matched up with Eric Gordon, one of the most talented young SGs in the NBA. Gordon, however, has never become comfortable in New Orleans since coming over in the Chris Paul trade two years ago. He's openly clashed with management as well as coach Monty Williams, culminating in an in-game screaming match between the two last week. If he's locked in on the offensive end, it could force Kobe to overextend himself defensively.

Without many options on the perimeter, L.A. will need offense from the duo of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard upfront, who are still trying to figure out the best way to play with each other. Gasol has been in more of a rhythm since returning from a foot injury in late March, averaging 15 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists on 53% shooting in the month of April. Howard, meanwhile, has struggled with his consistency, alternating between nights where he looks like his old self and others where he's an afterthought on offense and a step late on defense.

The Anthony Davis matchup

Davis, the consensus No. 1 pick coming out of college, has long since lost the Rookie of the Year race to Damian Lillard, but he's quietly begun to come on over the second half of the season. He's now averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds on 52 percent shooting, good for an eye-popping 21.7 PER as a rookie. On Tuesday, he'll face one of his toughest tests of the season in the form of the Lakers' massive frontline. Davis, at 6'10 220, has struggled with the strength of some of the NBA's bigger power forwards and he won't face a bigger one than Pau Gasol, at 7'0 250.

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