dwight howard lakers
Dwight Howard is averaging 16.4 points per game with the Lakers. Reuters

Heading into the All-Star game, it appeared that the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers could have one of the most disappointing seasons in NBA history.

In 14 games since the break, L.A. has turned around their season and become one of the hottest teams in the league. Sunday's win put the Lakers at 11-3 since All-Star Weekend, giving them a one-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

What has been most surprising is that the Lakers recent surge has come without their best player. Kobe Bryant has missed most of the last two games with a sprained ankle, and won’t suit up for the team’s next contest.

Los Angeles is set to visit the Phoenix Suns on Monday night at 10 p.m. ET. Bryant will be out again, as well as Pau Gasol, who recently suffered a setback with his foot injury. Viewers can watch a live stream online of the contest by purchasing NBA League Pass Broadband.

Dwight Howard may be the biggest reason for the Lakers strong play. The center struggled in his first few months with Los Angeles, but appears to be recovering better from the back surgery he underwent in April. He recorded his seventh straight double-double on Sunday.

It will be the second time that Steve Nash has returned to Phoenix since he was traded in the offseason. He scored 11 points and dished out just two assists in a loss on Jan. 30 against the Suns.

Phoenix doesn’t have much to play for at this point in the season. With 22 wins the Suns are tied with the New Orleans Hornets for the worst record in the West.

Betting Line: Los Angeles-3, 200.5

Prediction: Los Angeles 113, Phoenix 94