After winning two straight against quality teams (the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz), will the Lakers be able to avoid a letdown against the 15-29 New Orleans Hornets? The two teams are set to meet Tuesday night at Staples Center, with the Lakers closer to the 14th-place Hornets (four games ahead) than the eighth-place Houston Rockets (4 1/2 games back).
The Hornets won't be easy. They're simply a different team with a healthy Eric Gordon. While the shooting guard (and former Clipper) hasn't been especially efficient, shooting 39.9% from the field and 31.5% from three-point range, his presence has simply led to wins.
The Hornets are 8-5 with Gordon; they're 7-14 without him.
Meanwhile, the Lakers in the last two games have been playing some of their best basketball so far this season. Can they maintain it? Through most of the season, the answer has been a resounding no, but if they are ready to truly make a run to the postseason, they must beat teams like the Hornets at home.
The Lakers tend to have trouble guarding mobile forwards who can hit from the outside. That's Ryan Anderson in a nutshell.
When the Lakers dispatched the Hornets, 103-87, during a Dec. 5 game in New Orleans, Anderson scored 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting, hitting five of eight from three-point range.
Anderson has been coming off the bench for rookie Anthony Davis (who missed the first meeting against the Lakers -- as did Gordon). The Lakers may have to match up with Earl Clark, who has a unique combination of height, length, athleticism and youthful legs.
Anderson will probably out-score Clark, but the Lakers just need to make sure the Hornets' forward doesn't light it up on Tuesday night.
The Lakers often struggle guarding point guards, and Greivis Vasquez is a clever one. For the season, he's averaging elite assists numbers (9.2) in 34.3 minutes a game.
If Vasquez has a big night, that typically means his teammates do as well.
The Lakers may have a new x-factor in Steve Blake, returning from abdominal and groin injuries that have kept him out for 37 games. Perhaps Blake can come in as the defender off the bench, although that's a lot to ask for a guy who has been out for months.
Does it make sense, a Lakers loss to a lottery team after their triumph over Oklahoma City? It might happen, but put this one down as an uneasy win for the Lakers.