Not only are the Los Angeles Lakers on just their third winning streak of the season, but they appear to be close to getting a key player back.
The Lakers, looking for a third straight win, could have Pau Gasol available on Tuesday night when they host the slumping Charlotte Bobcats, losers of 11 in a row.
Gasol has missed the past eight games due to tendinitis in both knees and returned to practice on Monday. The forward said he felt good afterward, but wasn't ready to make the decision on his status for tonight. Gasol is looking forward to getting back on the court.
"It's been a while. I miss playing and being out there competing with my teammates," Gasol said.
The looming return of Gasol, and possibly point guard Steve Nash by Christmas, could spark a Lakers team that has followed up four straight losses with back- to-back wins. A victory tonight would match Los Angeles' longest winning streak of the campaign.
The Lakers concluded a four-game swing out east with a 111-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. Kobe Bryant notched a game-high 34 points, his sixth straight game netting at least 30 points.
The league's leading scorer at 29.5 points per game, Bryant is the first player in NBA history to surpass 30 points in six straight games at 34-plus years of age.
"I think the biggest difference that I'm happy about is the energy that we're playing with," Bryant said. "We're playing with a better spirit and playing with more energy. That's what I like."
Dwight Howard netted 17 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Metta World Peace donated 19 points and a career-high 16 boards.
While the Lakers look to get rolling, the Bobcats are simply getting desperate for a win. The club hasn't won since Nov. 24, a double-overtime victory over the current 3-18 Washington Wizards that saw Charlotte match its win total from all of last season (7-59).
The Bobcats' skid continued on Saturday with a 107-98 loss to the Orlando Magic. Kemba Walker had a career-high 32 points with seven assists in the setback.
"The culprit here all game long was defense," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap admitted. "When you give people 54 percent from the floor and they're getting over 100 regularly, you're going to have to make your stand there."
Walker, who shot 11-of-20 from the floor, notched seven straight points to give Charlotte a one-point lead with just over four minutes left, but the struggling club failed to hold the lead.
Gerald Henderson added 16 points in defeat for the Bobcats, who begin a four- game swing out west and are 2-6 on the road this season.
While Charlotte has won five of eight and eight of its past 12 versus Los Angeles, the Lakers picked up a 106-73 win at home last season in the lone meeting.
Bryant scored all of his game-high 24 points in the first half, while Walker had 12 points, six boards and a game-high six assists in defeat.
Charlotte has lost three in a row at Los Angeles.