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Preview: Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The Lakers (13-17) have lost four consecutive games heading into their Sunday night battle at Staples Center against the Philadelphia 76ers (8-21).

The Sixers have lost 13 in a row on the road after winning in Washington on Nov. 1 — their lone victory outside of Philadelphia.

While the Lakers are four games below .500, they play a four-game homestand starting Sunday against the Sixers, Milwaukee Bucks (6-24), Utah Jazz (9-24) and Denver Nuggets (14-15).

This may be the Lakers' best chance to climb a bit closer to the top eight in the Western Conference.

Regardless, they'll need to do so without guards Kobe Bryant (knee), Steve Nash (back) and Steve Blake (elbow).  Seven-footers Pau Gasol (upper respiratory infection) and Chris Kaman (ankle) are game-time decisions.

Key matchup

The Sixers have one of the top rookies this season in point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

On Saturday, Williams had 27 points, six assists and four steals in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. On the season he's averaging 18.1 points and 7.7 assists, although he recently sat out seven games because of a knee injury.

At 6-foot-6, the 22-year-old Syracuse product is still learning the NBA game, but he's way, way ahead of the curve.

He needs to reduce his turnovers (3.6 a game) and improve his shooting (41.0% from the field, 31.2% from the arc and 68.8% from the free-throw line), but Williams may be the front-runner for rookie of the year.

The Lakers might still be short on point guards but the team is happy to have Jordan Farmar back form a hamstring tear.

Farmar made a rusty debut on Christmas Day against the Miami Heat but gave a better performance Friday when the Lakers lost to the Jazz.

In almost 32 minutes, Farmar finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

The Lakers look a lot better with an actual point guard running the show, instead of forward Xavier Henry playing out of position. The team is still short-handed, but Farmar gives the Lakers a chance to pull out of their slump.

X-factor

The Sixers have six scorers averaging at least 9.8 points a game.

Evan Turner leads the team at 19.3, followed by Williams (18.1), Thaddeus Young (17.3), Spencer Hawes (14.9), Tony Wroten (14.1) and James Anderson (9.8).

The same group of scorers turn the ball over 15.6 times a game.

Young and Hawes are both efficient scorers while the rest of the team can run hot and cold.

The Lakers generally have great depth but the bench has been weakened by the loss of key starters.  If Gasol and/or Kaman can't play, the team's advantage over the Sixers is diminished.

Nick Young has helped carry the Lakers' scoring load, leading the team at 15.9 points a game. L.A. will need his offensive punch against a Philadelphia team that struggles defensively.

Outlook

The Lakers need to start winning games if they want to stay in playoff contention.

The Sixers are young and capable of putting up a lot of points. They're also inexperienced, defensively challenged and weak on the road.

Is there such a thing as a must-win game in December?

ALSO:

Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman game-time decisions Sunday

Former Laker Andrew Bynum could be on move after suspension

After fourth straight loss, Lakers fall to 12th place in West standings

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

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