By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers surprisingly haven't missed a beat with Kobe Bryant sidelined. The Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs know first-hand just how formidable Los Angeles can be even without its 14-time All-Star.
With Bryant expected to miss his sixth straight game Tuesday night, the Lakers try for a fourth consecutive win over the visiting Spurs and a fifth straight victory overall as these first-place teams square off for the second time in seven days.
Since falling 125-105 at Phoenix on April 7, Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles (39-22) has won four in a row - including Wednesday's 98-84 victory at San Antonio (43-16). Metta World Peace posted a season-high 26 points in that game while Andrew Bynum added 16 to go along with a career-high 30 rebounds.
"They played great and beat us to death," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "There's nothing else you can say about it."
Bynum also came up big during Sunday's 112-108 overtime win over Dallas, finishing with 23 points and 16 boards. Pau Gasol added 20 and 10, respectively, while Ramon Sessions scored 22.
"Metta, Andrew, myself, we all feel we have to step up in Kobe's absence," said Gasol, who's averaging 22.0 points in his last five games - well above his season mark of 17.4. "A different guy can do it every game."
While the NBA's leading scorer hasn't been able to suit up due to a bruised left shin, it's safe to say Bryant (28.1 points per game) has made his presence felt from the sidelines. Bryant has been seen drawing up plays for his teammates during timeouts and encouraging them throughout the game.
"That's Coach Bryant now. He's like a coach over there," Sessions said. "He's over there helping everybody out and drawing stuff up on the board. He's pulling for us over on the side and he's helping us out tremendously."
The Lakers have outscored the Spurs by an average of 13.0 points during their three-game winning streak in the series. Los Angeles hasn't taken four straight from San Antonio since a six-game run Nov. 13, 1997-Feb. 19, 1999.
The Spurs posted their 14th win in 16 games and - combined with Oklahoma City's 92-77 loss to the Clippers - moved percentage points ahead of the Thunder for the top spot in the West with Monday's 120-99 rout at Golden State.
San Antonio shot just 39.1 percent from the field but outrebounded the Warriors 55-47. The Spurs are 24-3 when pulling down at least 44 boards.
Popovich's team figures to be relatively fresh for the second leg of its current back-to-back-to-back stretch, as Tim Duncan played just over 11 minutes Monday and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili both played less than 15.
"We understood the situation, we got the comfortable lead and Pop made the call," Duncan said. "It was the right call. Our main focus is to be healthy and have our legs."
"We're in the run for it. We're going to do our best to try to win the West but it's not going to break our hearts if we don't. We want to be healthy more than anything."
Duncan scored 14 points last Wednesday, but is averaging just 6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, and shooting 30.0 percent in his last four matchups with the Lakers.
The Spurs visit Sacramento on Wednesday before concluding their season series with the Lakers two nights later at the AT&T Center.
Updated April 17, 2012