The Los Angeles Lakers (35-22) are looking to pad their cushion in a crowded Western Conference playoff race against the New Orleans Hornets (15-41) on Monday night.
Despite the Lakers having lost two straight games and struggling with the Hornets the last time these two teams squared off, Los Angeles will be looking to send a definitive message to the rest of the league when taking the floor in New Orleans.
Kobe Bryant's shin injury has been the popular topic of conversation, but the Lakers superstar will be looking to get back onto the floor as soon as possible with the regular season rapidly winding down.
The Hornets might not be the most talented team on paper, but Monty Williams has his club playing scrappy basketball and the Lakers can't afford to slack off a single bit.
Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, La.
When: Monday, April 9, 8:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Cox Sports Television (New Orleans), KCAL 9 (Los Angeles)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Listen: 710 ESPN (Lakers), KMEZ 106.7 (Hornets)
Betting Line: Not available, according to Bovada.lv at 8:30 a.m. ET
Key Injuries: Kobe Bryant (shin), Jordan Hill (sprained MCL), Jarrett Jack (ankle), Emeka Okafor (knee), Chris Johnson (concussion)
What They're Saying
With Bryant having missed Los Angeles' last contest against the Phoenix Suns, his absence from the lineup marked the first time since the 2009-10 season that he had been forced out of the action.
Bryant is dealing with a condition called tenosynovitis, and it's causing him a great deal of pain.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles has the breakdown.
Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said Bryant has tenosynovitis, a condition where the tendon sheath in the shin has become inflamed, making Bryant experience irritation when his movement causes his tendon to slide in and out of the sheath.
"He's been playing with this and it's not getting any better," Vitti said. "Really the only way to stop it is to shut him down."
Vitti said immobilizing Bryant's shin with the walking boot in between games had netted positive results, but the pain would return after Bryant played.
As reported by McMenamin, Bryant is not yet ready to return and will miss tonight's contest in New Orleans.
Most Important Player to Watch: Ramon Sessions, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Sessions is averaging 13.5 points and 7.4 assists on 51.2 percent shooting over 14 games since joining the Lakers, but those numbers don't do him proper justice.
Since March 31, Sessions is averaging nine assists per game and has scored in double digits in each of those six games.
He's going to need to run circles around whoever is lined up against him in order for the Lakers to attack the paint with their big men. Sessions' success will be especially important with Kobe Bryant forced to sit out once again.
Key Matchup: Andrew Bynum vs. Chris Kaman
To put it plain and simple, Bynum has to come out of the gates ready to dominate.
Although Kaman has been on a nice little roll for the Hornets, Bynum has to establish his presence in the paint early and often in order for the Lakers to get the ball rolling.
The only way the Lakers are going to hand it to this Hornets team in emphatic fashion is if the bigs beneath the basket have an integral role in the process. The Lakers should be looking to feed Bynum as much as humanly possible to make up for Bryant's absence.
Lakers 98, Hornets 92