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Jim Mancari,

NEW YORK — After hanging on late for a close win Friday night over the Chicago Bulls, Deron Williams was not in the mood to worry about the Los Angeles Lakers coming to town. He said it was too early to even think about that with the imminent three-day rest.

But that three-day break is now over, and Williams and the Nets are gearing up for their Tuesday night matchup with the Lakers.

Dwight Howard is dealing with a shoulder injury and may not play against the team that once coveted him. But even without Howard, and despite a sub-.500 record, the Lakers are always a dangerous team.

Los Angeles defeated Brooklyn 95-90 early in the season, relying on double-doubles from Howard (23 points, 15 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (17 points, 11 rebounds).

But with Howard potentially out and Gasol playing inconsistent basketball, the Nets are more than capable of picking up another home win.

With the Lakers coming to town, Friday’s win over the Bulls was that much more important.

“It was big because we didn’t want to have a two-game losing streak at home,” Gerald Wallace said after the win. “The main thing is to try to get back on a winning streak, try to keep the pace up in the Eastern Conference and continue to play well as a team. In this playoff race, a two- or three-game losing streak can drop you from third or fourth to eighth or ninth.”

The Nets must be sure to look past the Lakers’ 22-26 record and treat tomorrow's game like a must-win. At any point, the Lakers can get hot as they try to resurrect their season in an attempt to make a playoff run.

“I think [the Lakers] playing pretty well,” Joe Johnson said. “We know we are going to have our hands full.”

That’s the type of mentality Brooklyn must carry throughout this game. Sure, the Nets are 17-0 against teams under .500, but it’s so rare that the Lakers are ever under .500 for such an extended period of time. Plus, Steve Nash will play against the Nets this time around after missing the first matchup.

Even if Howard doesn’t play, Kobe Bryant can just as easily lead the Lakers to a win. He’s scored at least 24 points in six straight contests against the Nets, and he’s third in the NBA with 27.7 points per game this season.

Barclays Center will be hopping Tuesday night, though there are legitimate concerns as to whether the building will be packed with mostly Lakers or Nets fans. When the Miami Heat visited back on Jan. 30, the home crowd was probably split. It will be interesting to see who owns the crowd on Tuesday night.

Either way, it will be exciting.

“I think it will be a frenzy in here,” Johnson said. “We’ll definitely be up for the challenge.”

We will see.

Jim Mancari is a Contributor to Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.

Tags: Steve Nash, joe johnson, dwight howard, lakers, Columns, Kobe Bryant, nets, Brooklyn Nets, pau gasol, gerald wallace
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