Tuesday , Feb , 21 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Lakers headed for crucial stretch

(Sports Network) – The Los Angeles Lakers own a 26-26 record and are in
third place in the Pacific Division. They are 9 1/2 games behind the division-
leading Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers will host 18 of their final 30 games in the campaign. They return
from the All-Star break to play the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at the
Staples Center.

It is the second meeting of the season between the Lakers and Portland. On
January 11th, Juan Dixon poured in 27 points and dished out six assists to
lead the Trail Blazers to a 113-103 win over the Lakers at the Rose Garden.
Portland has won the last two contests in this series, while the home team has
won 14 of the last 17 meetings. The Trail Blazers have lost seven of eight and
12 of their last 15 at the Lakers.

The Lakers play the fourth of a five-game homestand on Tuesday. They are 1-2
on the stand. On February 15th, Josh Smith finished with 21 points and 15
rebounds as the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Lakers, 114-110, at the Staples

All-Star Kobe Bryant finished with 39 points and nine assists in the loss to
the Hawks for the Lakers, who have dropped six of their last eight games
overall. Lamar Odom netted 17 and Devean George ended with 16 points in

Bryant, who is averaging a league-best 35.0 points per game, has scored over
20 points in 32 straight outings. An eight-time All-Star, Bryant is also
averaging 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest.

LA is 13-10 as the host this season. The Lakers are scheduled to host Mike
Bibby and the Sacramento Kings on Thursday in the finale of the current stand.

The Lakers will play the Kings for the second time this season. On January
19th, Bibby scored 40 points and Kenny Thomas posted his first career triple-
double, as Sacramento outlasted the Lakers, 118-109, in an overtime thriller
at ARCO Arena.

Odom leads the Lakers in rebounding (9.2 rpg) and assists (5.3 apg). He is
second on the club in scoring (13.9 ppg).