Twenty-six games into the season and no one expected the Los Angeles Lakers to stare up the standings at Golden State Warriors. The 18-9 Warriors are 5.5 games up on the Lakers in the Pacific Division, as the two clubs meet Saturday night at Oracle Arena.
The 12-14 Lakers may have turned their season around, currently riding their second three-game win streak of the season.
Two of three wins came against squads with the worst records in the league. Los Angeles narrowly escaped the Charlotte Bobcats Tuesday in a 101-100 win. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 30 points and had a game-high seven assists, but the Lakers were forced to overcome an 18-point third quarter deficit at home against the 7-19 Bobcats.
It was the seventh straight game Bryant has scored 30 or more points, setting a new record for players over the age of 34.
Los Angeles may get a boost shortly, with point guard Steve Nash targeting Christmas Day as his return to the court. Nash has played a total of 50 minutes this season, having been sidelined since the beginning of the year with a hairline leg fracture.
Golden State is in the midst of a rejuvenation, behind guard Stephen Curryâ€™s career year with 20.2 points and 6.4 assists per game, along with 44 percent shooting from 3-point range.
The Warriors have won nine of their last 12 games, and also beat Charlotte in their last contest, but had a much easier time than the Lakers in a 115-100 win.
Curry netted 27 points and eight assists, along with forward David Leeâ€™s triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Lee is the centerpiece of a Warriors front court that is fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, and are third only to the Lakers and Minnesota in rebound differential.
These two teams last met in November, right after the Lakers fired Mike Brown and were in the process of hiring Mike Dâ€™Antoni as head coach. The Lakers responded to Brownâ€™s firing with a 101-77 rout, with Los Angeles outscoring the Warriors 54-39 in the second half, and dominating the boards 58-48.
Betting Odds: Los Angeles is is favored by 1.5 points
Over/Under: 213 points
Prediction: Bryant is on a tear, and Golden State has very few options to stop him. Same for Curry, as the Lakers have a proven difficulty with quick guards. The key for the Lakers is Dwight Howard, who should have a monster game and Los Angeles will walk away with a victory.
Predicted Score: Los Angeles 120, Golden State 115