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Playing for Brooklyn seemed to be what Dwight Howard wanted all along, but that trade never happened.

He won't get a chance to play there at all this season because of a right shoulder injury.

Struggling mightily to protect leads, the Los Angeles Lakers will again be without Howard as they make their first trip to the Barclays Center on Tuesday night to face a Nets team trying to avoid a 10th straight loss in the series.

During Howard's ongoing trade saga while playing for Orlando, a Brooklyn destination appeared to be the center's preference. The Nets (28-19) made a major push to acquire Howard this past summer, but after those talks broke down Brooklyn acquired Joe Johnson from Atlanta while re-signing Brook Lopez and Deron Williams and the Lakers (22-26) ended up trading for him.

Howard is putting up solid numbers - averaging 16.5 points and 11.9 rebounds - and has been selected to his seventh straight All-Star game, but he doesn't seem as intimidating in the paint and he's missed five games in the last month. He will miss his third straight contest because of shoulder pain, and Pau Gasol will again start in his place.

"As soon as the pain goes away he'll play,'' Mike D'Antoni said before Sunday's 98-97 win over Detroit.

The Lakers will also be without Metta World Peace, who has been suspended for one game because he struck Detroit's Brandon Knight in the jaw with the knuckles of his mostly open hand on Sunday with 1:43 left in the first half.

While Howard's shoulder is a bit of a concern, there is another disturbing trend developing for Los Angeles.

The Lakers barely won Sunday despite leading by as much as 18. This comes after a 29-point lead got trimmed to four in a win over Minnesota on Friday and after they opened a seven-game trip by blowing a 13-point fourth-quarter advantage in a 92-86 loss to Phoenix. A day earlier, they watched their 18-point fourth-quarter lead shrink to one before holding off New Orleans for a 111-106 win.

"Well our defense starts to loosen up," Pau Gasol said of the inability to protect leads. "We just have to stay disciplined, stay focused throughout the 48 minutes if we want to be able to win on the road consistently."

Getting a bit more offense from Kobe Bryant would probably also help.

Bryant is third in the league in scoring at 27.7 per game, but he's averaging just 16.5 points in the last four. An increase in scoring Tuesday could be a tall order considering his 22.6 career-scoring average against the Nets is his second-lowest versus any opponent.

The Lakers have won back-to-back games away from Los Angeles over weak competition after dropping eight straight on the road, but could be in for a tougher test against the Nets, who've won nine of 10 at the Barclays Center.

Brooklyn has been off since Friday's 93-89 home win over short-handed Chicago. Down by four entering the fourth quarter, P.J. Carlesimo turned to his bench and the reserves responded, scoring the Nets' first 20 points of the final period.

"It was good that those guys came in and stepped up for us," Williams said.

The bench ended up scoring 35, and Brooklyn is 10-3 when the reserves reach that mark.

The reserves had 17 points in a 95-90 loss at Staples Center on Nov. 20, extending the Nets' slide in the series to nine since a 102-100 win on Nov. 25, 2007.

"This is a big game for us," Williams told the Nets' official website. "Especially since we already dropped one to them in Staples and we had a chance to win. This is a big game regardless of records."

Williams, who has combined for 20 points on 8 of 21 shooting (38.1 percent) in his last two games, is averaging 22.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last four versus the Lakers.

Tagged: Lakers, Nets, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez

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