With the season spiraling further out of control and their star center injured again, one of the last teams the Los Angeles Lakers likely want to face is the surging Utah Jazz.
The visiting Jazz can record their season-high fifth straight victory with a fifth consecutive win over the Lakers on Friday night.
Despite holding a team meeting prior to Wednesday morning's shootaround, Los Angeles' latest skid reached four games with a 106-93 loss at Memphis. Losers in 10 of 12, the star-studded Lakers (17-25) are 12th in the Western Conference and facing the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05.
"I do think they play as hard as they can play, and that's what's scary," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I mean I don't know how we can play harder or blame something else."
A frustrated Kobe Bryant scored 29 while Los Angeles shot 42.5 percent and trailed by as many 21.
"It's just disappointing to lose, period," said Bryant, who is among the NBA scoring leaders at 29.2 points per game. "We just have to go back to work and work a little harder."
While Bryant continues to do his part, Pau Gasol remains unhappy coming off the bench. However, he could start if Howard is unable to play after aggravating his sore shoulder before halftime.
"He just reinjured the shoulder a little bit, and right now he is out obviously," D'Antoni said after the Lakers were outrebounded 52-34 and outscored 60-34 in the paint. "But I don't know what that means day-to-day."
Howard had two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes after totaling 13 and 11 boards in the previous two games. That included Sunday's 108-103 loss at Toronto, where he was ejected late in the first half after receiving his second technical foul.
Regardless of who is on the floor, Los Angeles must play better defensively after allowing a Memphis team that failed to score more than 85 points in six straight contests to shoot 49.0 percent.
The Lakers are surrendering 101.5 points per game, their worst mark in six years.
"We make these teams look a lot better offensively than they really are," Gasol said. "That's something that's pretty negative. Pretty alarming."
Utah (23-19) shot 54.2 percent during a 117-110 win at Los Angeles on Dec. 9 to improve to 2-0 against the Lakers this season. The Jazz have averaged 102.8 points during a four-game winning streak versus Los Angeles - their longest in the series since sweeping the Lakers in the 1998 conference finals and then winning the first meeting the next season.
Paul Millsap, who has scored 24 each in the last two road games against the Lakers, had 16 with 15 rebounds to help Utah hold on for a 92-88 home win over Washington on Wednesday. Though the Wizards scored 21 points off 14 turnovers and cut a 22-point deficit to two, the Jazz prevailed for the eighth time in 10 games.
"It's a concern when we lose big leads, but we're winning the game so we're not going to go crazy about it," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You'd like to learn a lesson not to relax when we're up. Turnovers and fast scores for the opponents is what's really concerning."
Bryant has totaled 63 points despite shooting 39.0 percent (16 of 41) versus Utah this season.