Kobe faces a Bobcats team that had the Lakers' number
The Lakers face the Bobcats at Staples Center tonight Reuters

The Bobcats have had their troubles this season.

After a poor start to the season, head coach Larry Brown stepping down after a 9-19 record, and the trade of high-scoring Gerald Wallace, it might seem like Charlotte's chances of salvaging this season were hopeless.

Yet through it all, the Bobcats are still in the playoff hunt. They're five and-a-half games out of the sixth spot, four games out of the seventh spot, and just one game out of the eight spot.

Should the Bobcats climb the standing and find themselves in the playoffs, new head coach Paul Silas will certainly gain a lot of attention for Coach of the Year honors.

As for the back-to-back Champions, the Lakers received good news when they learned that small forward Matt Barnes will suit up for the first time in months.

Barnes missed 25 games due to a right knee injury. The Lakers could have certainly used him when starter Ron Artest was struggling.

The Lakers are definitely not struggling. They've won five games in a row since the All-Star break.

Facing the Bobcats at home will be the last time the Lakers play at Staples Center for a while.

The Lakers embark on a four-game road trip against tough competition. Los Angeles starts with San Antonio on Sunday, followed by Atlanta, Miami and Dallas.

All four teams are almost assured of making the playoffs, and currently, three of the four teams have a better record than the Lakers.

In a victory over Portland at the Rose Garden, a place the Lakers have had limited success in over the years, Kobe Bryant dropped 37 points to go along with nine rebounds and six assists in the win.

In some ways, that victory and Kobe's performance has been a sign of a renewed Lakers team.

Phil Jackson's squad has looked like a more confident team since their last loss, a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Another player who has seen an improvement to his game recently has been Artest. Appearing to lack confidence and often brutally off the mark in his shooting earlier in the season, Artest has shot 46.7 percent in the winning streak, and is averaging 11.2 points per game in that span.

The addition of Barnes gives Jackson more opportunities to tinker with the lineup, which is a huge bonus for a team that hasn't been getting quite the production it expected from its bench.

Tonight's matchup may be pivotal for the Lakers as it's a home game against a team that has had their number over the years. The Bobcats have won eight-of-10 games against the Lakers.

When the two teams faced each other in Charlotte, the Bobcats cruised to a 109-89 victory. It's rare for the Lakers to be dominated like that, and even more rare that Bryant only got to the free-throw line four times.

Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson poured in 18 points off the bench in the victory.

Charlotte is led by Stephen Jackson who is averaging 19.2 points per game.

Bryant leads all scorers with a 25.1 points-per-game average.