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Preview: Banged-up Lakers return home to host Houston Rockets

Preview: Banged-up Lakers return home to host Houston Rockets
Rockets guard James Harden is fouled by Lakers center Roy Hibbert during a game on Dec. 17. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

The Lakers (9-32) return from a quick two-game road trip to host the Houston Rockets (21-20) on Sunday night at Staples Center.

The seventh-place Rockets continue to play inconsistently, both winning and losing in bunches, but still hold a four-game lead over the ninth-place Portland Trail Blazers (18-25).

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Both Kobe Bryant (Achilles) and Larry Nance Jr. (knee) were unable to play through all of the Lakers' Saturday-night loss to the Utah Jazz.  Brandon Bass (foot) also sat out.

All three may be unavailable on Sunday.

The Rockets have their injury concerns as well, with Dwight Howard (oblique) and Patrick Beverley (ankle) both game-time decisions.  Donatas Motiejunas and Sam Dekker are also out with back injuries.

Key matchup

Slowing down All-Star guard James Harden is an issue for most of the league.

One of the league's top scorers, Harden is averaging 27.7 points a game, while dishing 6.7 assists a game.  Harden is turnover prone, at 4.7 a night.

The goal with Harden is to try and keep him off the free-throw line, while forcing him to shoot a low percentage.  Easier said than done.

The Lakers will presumably match up with players like Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Anthony Brown, Nick Young and possibly Metta World Peace.

X-factor

While the Rockets haven't been able to put much of a run together this season, they've beaten the Lakers twice.

Houston has a number of solid role players like former Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Terrence Jones, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry.

If Howard is able to play, he's still one of the top defensive centers in the league.

The Lakers will need scoring from Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, Clarkson and Williams.

Tarik Black and Ryan Kelly are likely to fill in for Bass and Nance, presuming the pair are unable to go against the Rockets.

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Outlook

The banged-up Lakers are just too short-handed to beat the Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back.

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

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