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Kings-Lakers Preview

Dec 31, 2009 - 9:56 PM By ALAN FERGUSON STATS Writer

Sacramento (14-17) at Los Angeles (25-6), 10:30 p.m. EDT

The loss of Ron Artest has added to the Los Angeles Lakers' recent defensive struggles. Tyreke Evans' absence hasn't helped the Sacramento Kings' quest for consistency.

With both players questionable for Friday night's game at the Staples Center, the Lakers will try to win their fourth straight over the Kings after outlasting them six days ago.

Artest - a four-time NBA all-defensive team honoree, has been a key contributor in helping Los Angeles (25-6) hold opponents to 94.5 points per game during a 22-4 start.

The Lakers, however, have given up an average of 109.8 points during a 3-2 stretch since Dec. 22, and Artest has missed three of those contests after falling down the steps of his house Christmas night. They've also allowed a season-high 118 in back-to-back games this weekend with the forward still recovering from a concussion and a deep cut on his left elbow.

To help Los Angeles avoid consecutive defeats, Kobe Bryant delivered in the clutch despite his broken right index finger, exhaustion and the lingering pain of other ailments.

Bryant had a season-high 44 points and 11 assists in 43 minutes in a 124-118 victory Tuesday over visiting Golden State to open a four-game homestand. He was also 16-of-16 from the free-throw line, converting four in the final minute to seal the win.

Bryant has averaged 34.5 points since breaking his finger on Dec. 11, scored at least 35 in six consecutive games and had three of his 103 career 40-point performances - third-most in NBA history. In that same span, he's also survived an elbow to the jaw and a near-injury to his left knee.

"By his effort alone, I think we owe this game to him in the win column," coach Phil Jackson said.

Pau Gasol added a season-high 27 points as the Lakers improved to 17-3 at home and bounced back from a disappointing 15-point loss to Cleveland on Christmas Day.

"You're going to have stretches when you're not playing well," Bryant said. "It's about how you deal with it and how you play through it."

Bryant played through numbness in his right arm in Sacramento while leading the Lakers to a 112-103 double-overtime victory. He made consecutive 3-pointers in the final period to put his team ahead for good and finished with 38 points.

Evans, who leads all rookies with 20.3 points per game, scored 18 in his first meeting with Los Angeles, but has missed the past two games with a sprained right ankle.

The Kings (14-17) knocked off Northwest Division-leading Denver 106-101 on Monday night without him but fell 116-106 to lowly Philadelphia on Wednesday night to conclude a four-game homestand.

"Tyreke is a big piece of our team and he's been showing that the whole year," guard Beno Udrih said. "But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. Injuries are a part of the game and you deal with it."

Sacramento will try to bounce back with its first three-game road win streak since Dec. 18, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, but will need to break a three-game road skid to the Lakers.

Los Angeles has won six of eight meetings at the Staples Center since the 2005-06 season and 12 of 16 overall since Feb. 23, 2006. The Lakers haven't won four in a row over the Kings since a six-game run from March 12, 2000-March 25, 2001.