By Eric Pincus
4:59 PM PST, December 9, 2013
Week 6 saw Kobe Bryant return to the lineup, but the Lakers finished the week back at .500 (10-10).
The Lakers start Week 7 with a home game Tuesday before starting a four-game trip that bleeds into Week 8.
Through 20 games, the Lakers have exceeded cumulative expectations by three wins.
Tuesday vs. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns (11-9) have been a surprise this season, competing despite expectations that this was a "tanking" year for the team.
Former Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe has been tremendous for the Suns, averaging 18.6 points with six assists a game.
Goran Dragic always seems to give the Lakers issues as well.
Like the Lakers, the Suns rely on depth -- with eight players scoring 9.7 points a game or more.
Kobe Bryant's return is vital for the Lakers this season but the team will stumble initially to reintegrate their star.
Perhaps the bigger issue for the Lakers is Jordan Farmar's hamstring injury, making Steve Blake the only available point guard. Steve Nash is also out with back problems.
Pau Gasol has struggled recently, playing through a sprained ankle.
At full strength, the Lakers should be able to beat the Suns -- but they're not at full strength.
Friday at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder (15-4) are one of the top five teams in the NBA. Like the Portland Trail Blazers (17-4) and San Antonio Spurs (15-4), Oklahoma City only has four losses this season. Only the Indiana Pacers can boast fewer losses.
The Lakers are still in a transition period, but even at their best, the Thunder is a tough opponent.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are a powerful scoring duo. Serge Ibaka is a steady third option and high-level defender.
While the Lakers have gotten wins through scoring depth, the Thunder got most of its offense from its top three players -- along with double digits from Reggie Jackson off the bench (11.6 a game).
Getting the Thunder on the road would be a huge win for the Lakers, but they don't look like a team ready to compete quite at that level just yet.Prediction: Thunder
Saturday at Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats (9-11) have improved tremendously on the defensive end, allowing just 91.5 points a game this season with former Lakers' assistant coach Steve Clifford taking over the head spot in Charlotte.
Injuries have been an issue for Charlotte, notably losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a broken hand.
The Bobcats always seem to be a tough, tough matchup for the Lakers almost under any circumstances -- even when Charlotte was among the worst teams in the league.
The challenge for the Lakers will be beating the Bobcats on the second night of a back-to-back.
If the Lakers do indeed lose the first two games this week, they should still be able to challenge Charlotte on the road.
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