The Los Angeles Lakers easily clinched the top spot in the Western Conference. Homecourt advantage in the playoffs, though, may not get them very far if Kobe Bryant is hurt.With Bryant's status uncertain, the Lakers look to remain undefeated on a season-high seven-game road trip when they face the struggling Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.
Los Angeles (58-14) will have homecourt advantage throughout the conference playoffs after securing the West's No. 1 seed with a 103-95 win over New Jersey on Friday night.
"It's just one more step toward our goal," Lakers center Pau Gasol said. "Now we're just looking to the next game. We still have three games left on the road trip."
With 2 1/2 weeks still remaining in the regular season, Los Angeles will focus on preparing for the postseason and foremost that means making sure Bryant is healthy.
The MVP candidate hurt his right ankle on a drive to the basket late in the first half versus the Nets and remained on the floor for about a minute before limping to the locker room. He started the second half and scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime, but is scheduled to be re-evaluated.
"It's sore," Bryant said. "It's burning. We have to stay on top of it, get it ready for Sunday."
Gasol picked up the slack with Bryant limited, scoring a season-high 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He shot 14-for-19 and fell three assists shy of a triple-double as the Lakers won their sixth straight on the road, fifth in a row overall and fourth game on this trip.
Gasol earned his first triple-double with Los Angeles and the third of his career in the Lakers' 96-83 win over Atlanta (42-31) on Feb. 17, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Hawks are 2-8 against the top two teams in the West and East. They've lost three of four overall, including a 99-93 defeat against Boston on Friday night.
Atlanta, which won seven straight before its slump, will have played the last four NBA finalists in a five-game span following its matchup with Los Angeles. The Hawks, though, couldn't take advantage of Boston forward Kevin Garnett's absence, two days after falling to a San Antonio team that played without injured All-Star Tim Duncan.
In danger of losing three straight at home for the first time this season, Atlanta may want to switch back to its usual lineup after going big to match up with Boston's bulky frontcourt. Hawks coach Mike Woodson started 6-foot-11 Zaza Pachulia at center, pushing Al Horford to power forward.
Horford has been struggling with his shot the last two games, averaging 6.5 points and shooting 23.8 percent (5-for-21). He had six points on 2-for-6 shooting in this season's first matchup with the Lakers.
Atlanta shot 36.9 percent in that contest, with Joe Johnson scoring 14 points - 7.7 below his season average - on 6-for-17 shooting. Johnson, though, is averaging 27.0 points in his last three home games versus Los Angeles.