'Old' Lakers take on suddenly cool Clippers

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Kobe Bryant didn't baby his words when asked why energy has been a problem for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

Set to play for just the second time in the past week, the Lakers aim to return to .500 on Friday night and deal the once-streaking Los Angeles Clippers a third straight setback.

Thanks in part to the return of veteran point guard Steve Nash from a leg injury, the Lakers began to hit their groove in late December and won six of seven prior to a 103-99 setback to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.

Bryant paced the Lakers with 36 points on 14-of-29 shooting and hit a 3- pointer that pulled his club to within two with 1:28 to play. However, the Sixers followed with a bucket and Bryant turned the ball over before Nash and Metta World Peace missed some shots.

Nash added 12 points and 10 assists, but Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined to shoot just 3-of-19 from the floor for 18 points.

So, why the lack of energy despite having had the previous three days off?

"Because we're old as (expletive)," said an honest Bryant, who leads the NBA with 30.3 points per game. "What do you want? We've just got to figure out how to play when we don't have the energy. We've got to change things up a little bit defensively. We've got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights we don't have those legs."

At 15-16, the Lakers find themselves nine games back of the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division. Friday night will mark just the fifth time since 2005-06 that the two Los Angeles clubs will meet through at least 15 games with the Clippers ahead of the Lakers in the standings.

The Lakers will also be looking for a bit of payback after a 105-95 defeat to the Clippers on Nov. 2 sent them to their first 0-3 start since the 1978-79 campaign despite 40 points from Bryant.

The Lakers were the home team in that Staples Center meeting, but a designated as the visiting club tonight.

"We'll be ready to go. When this building turns into the Clipper building it's probably my second favorite place to play, after New York. They do a really good job. They have a lot of energy in the building. I'm looking forward to it," Bryant said.

While the Clippers are comfortably ahead of the Lakers, they sit just 2 1/2 games ahead of the Golden State Warriors in the standings after a 115-94 setback to the club on Wednesday.

It was the Clips' second straight defeat after having their franchise-record 17-game win streak come to an end with Tuesday's loss at Denver.

Versus the Warriors, they trailed 26-8 with 4:14 left in the first quarter.

"We just kind of hit a little bit of a wall," Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who had 10 points and six rebounds, said of the loss. "They completely outplayed us tonight in almost every area."

Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 24 points and Chris Paul added 23 points and six assists as the club posted its first losing streak since dropping four in a row from Nov. 21-26 right before the start of the franchise-record win streak.

Los Angeles also played on Wednesday after learning that owner Donald Sterling's son had been found dead earlier in the day from an apparent drug overdose as the age of 32.

Caron Butler was not with the club due to personal reasons, but is expected back for this game.

The Clippers have still won their last 10 home games and play the first of four straight as the host tonight.

Crawford led the Clippers with 21 points off the bench in the earlier win over the Lakers, while Paul had 18 points and 15 assists.