Following a tough road trip, the Los Angeles Lakers could struggle to get back on track Friday night -- even though they haven't lost at home to their opponent in more than four years.
The Lakers look to avoid a third straight loss and extend a 13-game home winning streak against the surging Utah Jazz, one of their closest pursuers for the Western Conference lead.
Los Angeles (54-21) opened a five-game trip with a 92-83 win over San Antonio on March 24, only to drop three of its next four.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," said Ron Artest, 4 of 22 from 3-point range during the trip. "We definitely tried our best. On this trip, our best wasn't good enough."
A 109-92 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night gave the Lakers consecutive defeats for the fourth time this season.
Los Angeles let the Hawks shoot 54.2 percent and surrendered more than 100 points for a third straight game.
"We're not playing well defensively," guard Kobe Bryant said. "This trip was consistently bad, so we've got to get back to work."
Despite their struggles, the Lakers can secure a third consecutive Pacific Division title with a win over the Jazz (50-26) and a Phoenix loss to Detroit earlier in the evening.
However, Utah has won eight of 10 to move within 4 1/2 games of Los Angeles for the conference lead.
"Every game is a huge game for us," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer said. "We've got to take care of us. We can't really worry about everybody else."
The Lakers, though, have reason to be confident if they met the Jazz in the playoffs for the third straight year.
Los Angeles' 13 straight home wins against Utah, dating to Jan. 1, 2006, include six postseason victories over the past two seasons. The Lakers are averaging 114.3 points and shooting 51.4 percent during that streak, winning 101-77 on Dec. 9 in the only meeting at Staples Center this season.
A loss Friday would give Los Angeles three straight for the second time in a month. Prior to a skid in early March, the Lakers hadn't lost three in a row since January 2008.
Andrew Bynum's absence hasn't helped. The 7-footer has missed six straight games due to a strained Achilles' and could miss another 10 days.
Pau Gasol has moved from forward to center in place of Bynum. Gasol has 33 rebounds over his past two games and 39 in his last two contests against Utah.
Though Bryant was out with an ankle sprain, the Lakers won 96-81 in Utah on Feb. 10. Bryant is shooting 51.3 percent (20 for 39) from 3-point range over his last 12 home games against the Jazz.
Utah's Deron Williams is coming off a strong performance, posting a season-best 19 assists in a 128-104 win over Golden State on Wednesday night.
Williams was held to eight points -- the seventh time this season the All-Star failed to reach double figures -- but he helped the Jazz finish with 37 assists on 46 field goals. Utah is averaging 110.4 points over its last 11 games.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Williams said.
Boozer is averaging 24.3 points and shooting 78.6 percent (33 for 42) in his last three contests. He has been held to fewer than 13 points, though, in three straight games versus the Lakers.