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Preview: Lakers at Houston Rockets

The 14-21 Lakers, who have lost eight of their last nine games, travel to Houston to play the Rockets (22-13) on the second night of a back-to-back.

On Nov. 7, Steve Blake hit a late game-winner to upset the Rockets, 99-98.  Since then, the Lakers have lost almost their entire guard corps to injury.

The Lakers once had one of the top benches in the league, but with Kobe Bryant (knee), Steve Nash (back), Jordan Farmar (hamstring), Xavier Henry (knee) and Blake (elbow) all sidelined, the team is running on fumes.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are 14-5 at home and looking for revenge.

Key matchup

Despite the Lakers' struggles, Pau Gasol has looked as good as he has all year over the last few games.

Through his last three performances, Gasol has averaged 21 points, 13.3 rebounds, six assists and 2.7 blocks a game.

Dwight Howard will presumably guard Gasol, which proved to be a challenge for the Lakers' center/forward in their last meeting.

In November, Howard helped hold Gasol to just two points on 1-10 shooting, although Gasol did collect a team-high 12 rebounds.

Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni isn't afraid to send Howard to the line repeatedly (and intentionally). 

On the season, Howard is shooting 58% from the line, significantly higher than his percentage with the Lakers (49.2%).  He's also averaging 17.8 points and 12.9 points a game.

X-factor

Houston's Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith and Omer Asik may all sit out with knee issues. Patrick Beverly is out with a hand injury.

The Rockets are in better shape than the Lakers, but they're not quite at full strength.

Of course they still have James Harden, who is averaging 24.4 points a game with 5.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

Harden's penetration is especially difficult to deal with -- and the Lakers are having a lot of problems in general on defense.

Back issues limited Nick Young on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, arguably making Jodie Meeks the Lakers' second-best player.

Outlook

The Rockets are trying to climb in the Western Conference, so the Lakers are not going to have an easy night in Houston.

ALSO:

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Conflicting 'reports' on status of Pau Gasol trade to Cavaliers

Lakers might have a gem with Kendall Marshall on a two-year contract

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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