With or without Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers are confident they can keep finding ways to win.
As their superstar deals with a severely sprained ankle, the Lakers look to build on an impressive road victory with a seventh straight home win Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings.
Though Bryant missed all four of his shots and finished without a point while playing only one quarter, Los Angeles (35-32) pulled out a 99-93 win at Central Division-leading Indiana on Friday. With Bryant shouting instructions and diagramming plays on the sideline, Dwight Howard had 20 points with 12 rebounds and completed a tiebreaking three-point play with 1:30 remaining.
"It was our best win of the season," said Metta World Peace, who had 19 points and seven boards. "It's been an up-and-down year, not to our fans' liking as far as the record is concerned. But I would say it's our best win of the season."
Los Angeles shot 42.3 percent overall, but 13 of 26 from 3-point range and held the Pacers to 37.4 percent shooting to win for the 18th time in 25 games.
The Lakers hold a slim lead over Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"I just think we're more comfortable, we are playing more together," point guard Steve Nash said. "I'm confident that we can repeat this performance, but we have to keep winning games."
The Lakers might have to do that without Bryant, who tried to play Friday after turning his ankle late in Wednesday's 96-92 loss at Atlanta - their lone defeat in six contests.
"It really just continued to swell and I couldn't put any weight on it, so I called it a night," he said. "I told them before the game, 'I don't know how much I have, but whatever I have, I'll give you.'"
With Bryant hobbled, the Lakers may look to Howard for more scoring. The center has averaged 21.5 points and 15.5 rebounds in the last six games.
Howard was held to seven points and nine boards in a 113-97 loss at Sacramento on Nov. 21, 10 days after he had 23 and 18 in a 103-90 home win over the Kings. Los Angeles has averaged 110.6 points and shot 49.2 percent while winning eight of nine against Sacramento at Staples Center.
The Kings (23-43) are a West-worst 6-28 away from home and have lost 11 of 12 on the road, but they're coming off their most lopsided win of the season, 121-79 at home over Chicago on Wednesday.
With DeMarcus Cousins sidelined by a left quad injury that's left him day to day, Tyreke Evans had 26 points and Isaiah Thomas added 22 as the Kings shot 54.2 percent, scored 27 fast-break points and committed a season-low five turnovers.
After averaging 118.3 points on 51.7 percent shooting during a 2-1 homestand, Sacramento hopes to carry that success to the road.
"(We have to) just stay consistent, talk on defense, make sure we don't (commit unnecessary) fouls, protect the paint - which we've been doing as of late - and make the extra pass," big man Jason Thompson told the Kings' official website. "(It's important) that we're not forcing things in the paint on offense and making it tough on the defense."
Evans averaged 23.7 points on 66.7 percent shooting during the homestand after putting up 9.8 per contest and making 37.5 percent in the previous four games.