Venue: The Palace of Auburn Hills
Playing through a broken nose and a recent concussion, red-hot Kobe Bryant has helped the Los Angeles Lakers open the second half of their season in impressive fashion.
A visit to face the Detroit Pistons seems unlikely to slow them down.
The Lakers kick off a three-game road swing seeking a fourth consecutive victory overall and sixth straight over the Pistons on Tuesday night.
Bryant, who was injured on a hard foul by Miami's Dwyane Wade during the All-Star game Feb. 26, has been nearly unstoppable since. Playing with a mask to prevent the risk of further injury, Bryant has averaged 34.0 points on 54.3 percent shooting in leading the Lakers (23-14) to three wins in a row.
Bryant continued his tremendous play during Sunday's much-anticipated matchup with the Heat. The 14-time All-Star shot a season-best 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) to finish with 33 points as Los Angeles improved to 8-2 over its last 10 games with a 93-83 victory.
"It's just about understanding what your strengths are then playing to that," said Bryant, who is expected to continue wearing the mask on this trip.
"The testament to any championship team is to understand what your weaknesses are and protect those, then understand what your strengths are and playing to those. I feel like we're starting to figure out how to support each other in that department."
While Bryant has been sensational, the Lakers have also thrived on the defensive end of the court. Los Angeles, which limited Miami to 37.5 percent shooting, ranks near the top of the league in opposing field-goal percentage (41.7) and points per game allowed (91.4).
The Lakers have taken five straight from the Pistons (12-26), including three in a row at The Palace of Auburn Hills by an average of 13.3 points.
In his last visit, Bryant scored 33 in a 103-90 victory Nov. 17, 2010, and Pistons coach Lawrence Frank knows his team will likely have its hands full again.
"They don't run the triangle (anymore), but they'll play (Bryant) in the post, they'll play him off the elbow, they'll put him in pick and rolls," Frank told his team's official website. "He's a great player. You could run the octagon and Kobe is going to find a way to be special in it.
"He's a winner. He's got five championship rings. But we're just talking about playing one game. That's all we need to focus on."
The Pistons enter this matchup losers of four of five, with their only win during that stretch coming 109-94 over NBA-worst Charlotte on Wednesday.
Detroit saw its struggles continue Saturday, falling 100-83 at Memphis. The Pistons shot 38.2 percent and committed seven of their 17 turnovers in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored 31-13.
"We just have to take care of the ball," said guard Rodney Stuckey, who scored 20 points on 6-of-22 shooting. "We turned the ball over a lot at the end of the game. I think if we would just take care of the ball and spread the court out a little more, we would have been fine."
Rookie guard Brandon Knight, averaging 16.9 points over his last seven games, scored 15 but missed 11 of 16 shots against the Grizzlies.
"It's frustrating, but it's a building process. We're still getting better," Knight said. "We saw a lot of good signs. We've just got to step it up in the fourth quarter."
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