LOS ANGELES (AP/CBSLA.com) – The Los Angeles Lakers may not have any of their injured players back as the club tries to avoid its first six-game slide in six seasons.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will arrive in Los Angeles with some recent experience against short-handed teams.
The Thunder return to Staples Center for the first time since last season’s playoffs Friday night when they try to add to the Lakers’ woes as the Western Conference’s top scorers – Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant – again match up.
Los Angeles (15-20) will be without Dwight Howard (shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip).
Neurologist Dr. Vern Williams did not clear Gasol to play Friday after meeting with him Thursday and Friday. Earl Clark, who played 22 minutes and scored 22 points with 13 rebounds against the Spurs, will start in place of the Spaniard at the power forward position.
Howard and Hill will be re-evaluated next week.
“(The doctor) doesn’t want me to continue to aggravate it every night, because that could cause problems later on in the season,” Howard said. “Or it could come to the point where somebody fouled me hard enough and it could (further injure the shoulder), so (we don’t) want that to happen.”
Forwards Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark received more minutes in Tuesday’s 125-112 loss to Houston and Wednesday’s 108-105 defeat at San Antonio. Bryant scored 27 on Wednesday.
“We have lost five games in a row, it is pretty self explanatory,” Bryant said. “We played very hard and I think we figured a few things out. We still have to straighten some things out on the defensive end but I feel like we competed and that was very important.”
Los Angeles last dropped six in a row during a seven-game slide March 2-15, 2007.
The Lakers did not have Gasol or Steve Nash when they fell 114-108 at Oklahoma City on Dec. 7 in the lone previous matchup this season. Durant outscored Bryant 36-35, with Russell Westbrook adding 33 for the Thunder (27-8).
That was the teams’ first meeting since last season’s West semifinal series won by the Thunder in five games. Oklahoma City’s last game at Los Angeles was a 103-100 victory in Game 4 when it rallied from a 13-point deficit with 8:02 left as Durant hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go before Bryant missed his tying attempt on the Lakers’ next possession.
The Thunder will be facing another opponent missing key players. They lost 101-99 at Washington on Monday even through the Wizards had three players out before bouncing back Wednesday for a 106-84 rout of a Minnesota team playing without All-Star forward Kevin Love and four other injured players.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks mentioned before shootaround that Minnesota was in the same situation as Washington. Brooks could provide a similar theme for this game.
“Everybody locked in and focused in on Minnesota tonight,” Brooks said. “I was glad they came out, and I knew they would. We’ve always been a team that takes pride in how we play, and they did tonight.”
With Bryant averaging 30.1 points and Durant 28.1, it’s not surprising that these teams are among the best in scoring with Oklahoma City averaging 105.4 and Los Angeles 103.2.
The Thunder figure to have an edge defensively in the paint with Howard and his 2.6 blocks per game out. Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka is the only West player with a better average of 2.9 blocks.
Westbrook has averaged 21.8 points and 8.2 assists in his last six meetings with Nash – all wins for Oklahoma City – with the former Phoenix guard averaging 10.5 points and 9.2 assists in those defeats.