By Eric Pincus
8:00 AM PST, February 17, 2014
The Lakers (18-35) return to play after the All-Star break tied with the Sacramento Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Injuries have crippled the team but the Lakers could get reinforcements as early as Wednesday.
Players in limbo include Steve Nash (back), Jodie Meeks (ankle), Jordan Farmar (hamstring), Pau Gasol (groin), Kobe Bryant (knee) and Xavier Henry (knee).
Both Bryant and Henry are weeks away from a return. Gasol has been subject to trade rumors. The league's trade deadline is Thursday.
Through 53 games, the Lakers have only 18 wins, four behind cumulative expectations.
Wednesday vs. Houston Rockets
The Rockets (36-17) have surged of late, winning seven in a row to climb into third place in the Western Conference -- in a virtual tie with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Clippers.
Houston has struggled to stay healthy all season, but nothing on a par with what the Lakers have had to deal with.
Expect Dwight Howard to be booed on every touch. Also expect the Rockets to outclass the Lakers, although it may be competitive if the Lakers get a few warm bodies back from the injured list.
Friday vs. Boston Celtics
Given the "competition" at the bottom of the standings, the Lakers are better off losing every night to improve their chances at getting a top lottery draft pick.
The Celtics (19-35) are among the worst teams in the league but they've made the mistake of winning one more game than the Lakers have this season.
Can a longtime Lakers fan root for the team to lose to the Celtics, even if it means the difference in draft position? There will probably be a number of conflicted fans on Friday.
Boston has improved slightly since getting Rajon Rondo back from a knee injury. Unlike the Lakers, the Celtics are awful but are just 4 1/2 games out of the eighth playoff berth.
The Lakers are indeed awful but are a full 13 games behind the eighth-place Golden State Warriors.
Yes, Boston has a 35.2% winning percentage and still has a shot at the postseason -- only in the Eastern Conference.
Sunday vs. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets started the season with injuries and chemistry issues.
The team has gradually gotten healthier and rounded into form, except for Brook Lopez who is out for the season with a foot injury.
The Nets, who were about 11 games under .500 earlier in the season, have climbed to seventh place in the East, with a 24-27 record.
If the Lakers have Gasol on the floor (if healthy and not traded before the deadline), the game Sunday should be competitive.
Former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are going to be looking to get a win at Staples Center against the Lakers.
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