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Lakers Now

Preview: Lakers at Charlotte Hornets

Preview: Lakers at Charlotte to play Hornets, who are still in NBA Eastern Conference playoff hunt

The Lakers (16-42) on Tuesday start a three-game road trip at Charlotte, N.C., visiting the Hornets (24-33).

After winning three straight, the Lakers fell Sunday to the Oklahoma City Thunder (33-27).

The Hornets have struggled for consistency this season, but are still in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference.

Six teams are still in contention for the seventh and eighth postseason berths in the East, including the Miami Heat (26-33), Brooklyn Nets (25-33), Indiana Pacers (25-34), Boston Celtics (23-34), Detroit Pistons (23-36) and Hornets.

While the Lakers are trying to develop younger players such as rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, the Hornets are still a team kicking and scratching for every win.

Charlotte will play without point guard Kemba Walker, and Nick Young is questionable for the Lakers; both have injuries.  The Lakers will also play without Ronnie Price (elbow), Kobe Bryant (shoulder), Julius Randle (knee) and Steve Nash (back), all done for the season.

Key matchup

With Walker sidelined, the Hornets acquired Mo Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Williams has given the team badly needed offense, averaging 23.4 points and 7.0 assists a game, through five appearances -- while hitting at least 37 minutes in four.

The Lakers have gotten strong play recently at point guard from Clarkson in a starting role and Jeremy Lin off the bench.

X-factor

Al Jefferson is the primary inside threat for the Hornets offensively, averaging 17.1 points along with 8.8 rebounds a game.

Robert Sacre will get the first crack at Jefferson, and probably will be followed by Ed Davis, Jordan Hill and Tarik Black.

Outlook

The Lakers played some of their best basketball of the season before the loss to the Thunder.

If they come to Charlotte with that same spirit, they might steal a win on the road.

Given that the Hornets are fighting to make the postseason, they should bring enough of an effort to fend off the upstart Lakers.

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

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