(AP) – The Los Angeles Lakers seem to have survived what could have been a crushing blow to their championship aspirations with center Andrew Bynum having avoided serious injury.
The New Jersey Nets haven’t been able to rely on their star big man much at all this season, but they’ve proved to be fairly formidable of late.
The Pacific Division-leading Lakers try for an eighth consecutive victory over the visiting Nets, who look to extend their longest winning streak in more than a year to four Tuesday night.
One night after defeating New Orleans 88-85, Los Angeles (33-20) beat Golden State 120-112 on Sunday behind 40 points from Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol scored 26 points and Ramon Sessions added 23 for the Lakers, who found themselves short-handed after Bynum exited in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Averaging 22.9 points and 64.6 percent shooting in his previous 15 games, Bynum said afterward that he would definitely play Tuesday. It remains to be seen if he’ll suit up, though.
“Hopefully he won’t (miss any games) because he’s a big presence for us defensively and offensively,” Gasol said. “He’s become such a point of reference for our team. If he does need to rest then obviously rebounding is one area that everybody needs to make sure we make a conscious effort and it needs to be covered.”
If Bynum does play, he won’t have to worry about slowing down Brook Lopez, who’s out with a sprained right ankle. Lopez also broke his right foot during the preseason and has appeared in five games this season for the Nets (19-35), who have recently picked up the pace despite the absence of their starting center.
Winner of four of five, New Jersey has kicked off its four-game road swing with back-to-back victories to extend its winning streak to three. The Nets haven’t taken four in a row since a five-game run March 4-14, 2011.
“We’re playing better defensively, which is helping us on offense,” point guard Deron Williams told the league’s official website. “We’re giving a good team effort. It’s different guys stepping up … We’re just getting great, great team efforts night in and night out.”
Ranking near the bottom of the league with 93.1 points per game, New Jersey has averaged 104.3 during its streak and continued its offensive surge in a 111-99 win at Sacramento on Saturday. The Nets outscored the Kings 60-41 over the second and third quarters.
Williams had 19 points and 15 assists while Anthony Morrow went 6 of 11 from 3-point range and scored 24.
“This is huge. Everybody’s playing loose, playing confident,” Morrow said. “Coach (Avery Johnson) is really being patient and everything. He’s showing a lot of confidence in us and we’re showing a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. Everything’s working well. We’ve just got to continue play like we’re playing now.”
Recently acquired Gerald Wallace seems to finally be getting comfortable with his new team. He’s averaged 21.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.0 steals over the last two games after scoring 14.0 points with 6.1 rebounds a contest in his first seven with the Nets.
“Even though it’s a team game, a lot of (our success) has to do with Gerald Wallace,” Johnson said. “It’s his defense, his competitive spirit. He settles our team down when we are getting out of sorts.”
Los Angeles has outscored New Jersey by an average of 15.2 points during its seven-game run in the series, with Bryant averaging 29.5 points and 53.8 percent shooting in the last four. He scored 27 as the Lakers overcame 35 points from Lopez in the last meeting to win 100-88 on Jan. 14, 2011.