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Lakers' 6-0 road trip last season reveals applicable trends for upcoming games

Lamar Odom Cavs

The Lakers may not all agree, but the magnitude of the team's eight consecutive road games spanning 13 days can't be overstated.

It's not just because the Lakers, with the league's best record at 32-9, have played most of the first half of the season at home, compiling a 23-3 record at Staples Center. It's not just because the Lakers are 9-6 on the road, including losses at Denver, Houston, Utah, Portland and San Antonio. It's not just because four of the eight teams the Lakers visit are at least .500, adding difficulty to a trip that also includes three back-to-backs.

It's because the Lakers' performance the next two weeks could create a trickle effect that may influence the playoff picture.

Need proof? The Lakers went 6-0 last season in a stretch from late January to early February, including signature wins at Cleveland and Boston, en route to an NBA title. The same thing happened in the Lakers' 1999-2000 season, where a 6-0 trip was part of a 19-game winning streak. It paved the way for the team's first of three consecutive championships. And it's not like the Lakers have an entirely comfortable lead for the league's top spot, with Cleveland trailing with a 32-11 mark. 

"That was really a momentum breaker for us in the season," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of the team's six consecutive road wins last season. "It gave us the dominant confidence last year that we needed to take."

So why does that matter this season? After all, last team's roster was different. Artest and Trevor Ariza essentially switched places with the Lakers and Houston Rockets this offseason. And the Lakers didn't trade Vladimir Radmanovic for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown until a day before the trip ended. 

But the reasons why the Lakers won those games are still applicable for these upcoming road games, beginning tonight at Cleveland. (The other road games include Friday at New York, Sunday at Toronto, Tuesday at Washington, Wednesday at Indiana, Friday at Philadelphia, the following Sunday at Boston and the following Monday at Memphis).

Those factors include the team's ability to overcome adversity, Kobe Bryant's shooting and the inside presence of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. If the Lakers stay consistent in those three areas, it's likely their trip will be more enjoyable than the ones Clark Griswold or Lloyd Christmas traveled.

It could also determine whether the Lakers reach at least five wins, the benchmark Jackson said he's calculated for the trip.

"I'm setting a low bar for this team so they'll respond," he deadpanned.

Andrew Bynum

Overcoming adversity

The Lakers entered last season's trip looking to rebound from a double-overtime loss to Charlotte. In Jackson's words, he hoped ahead of time that the team had accepted the loss and "flushed it down the toilet and let it go." 

Consider it done. The Lakers opened the trip with a dominant 132-119 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, led by Andrew Bynum's 27 points and 15 rebounds.

With Bynum posting his fifth consecutive double- double, the longest streak of his career, it appeared he had turned a corner. He had averaged 26.2 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocks over those last five games, performances that weren't exactly typical after undergoing surgery on his left kneecap the previous May.

The Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies the next day, 115-98, but didn't escape unscathed.

Barely five minutes into the game, Bryant collided with Bynum, who immediately yelled, pounding the court with his fist as he stayed down for about two minutes. Bynum sprained his right knee, an injury that ultimately sidelined him for 32 games.

Yet, the Lakers were able to go 4-0 without Bynum the remainder of the trip. 

Although Bynum isn't currently sidelined with a knee injury, he isn't completely healthy this season either. He missed the entire fourth quarter Monday in the Lakers' 98-92 victory over the Magic because of flu-like symptoms, but the Lakers had six other players score in double figures as well as Odom and Gasol to grab double-digit rebounds. 

Team balance also proved instrumental during Bynum's absence in last season's trip, with at least three players scoring in double digits in the remaining four games.

Against Memphis, the Lakers responded to a six-point halftime deficit with 36 third-quarter points. They shot 53.7%, forced 23 turnovers and had five players score in double figures.

"It was a difficult part of it," Jackson said of Bynum's injury. "But we made up for it and came back and played pretty well, even though that was a depressing event for us."

Kobe Bryant Magic

Kobe in the clutch

Beyond his obsessive competitiveness, Mamba had plenty of reasons to play well on Feb. 2, 2009 against the New York Knicks.

Director and longtime Knicks fan Spike Lee was putting together a documentary -- later released as "Kobe Doin Work" -- and the two were set to review the film following the Knicks game. "I didn't feel like sitting next to him," Bryant told reporters, "and hearing him talk trash about the Knicks."

Mamba also wanted to perform well, given Bynum's absence. And all Bryant did in a 126-117 victory over New York was set Madison Square Garden's record of 61 points, eclipsing the 60 points scored by the Knicks' Bernard King in 1984 and marking the fifth time Bryant dropped at least 60.

Although his scoring dipped the following games against Toronto (36), Boston (26 on 10-of-29 shooting) and Cleveland (19), Bryant's presence in those games was still significant.

He scored 10 fourth-quarter points against the Raptors, and his jumper with 6:27 remaining gave the Lakers a 87-85 edge, the first time they led since the second quarter. 

Bryant's miss of a 22-foot turnaround shot over Boston's Paul Pierce with 9.9 seconds remaining meant the game would go to overtime. But he made three three-pointers late in the game, including one with 1:30 left to give the Lakers a 101-100 lead in the fourth quarter. 

And then there was Bryant's performance against Cleveland that Lakers guard Derek Fisher said afterward showed the "ultimate form of leadership on his part." Mamba experienced flu-like symptoms before, during and after the game, causing him to miss a team meeting in the morning and needing IV fluids at halftime and once the contest ended.

Call it an example of his unyielding desire to compete or just plain stubbornness, Bryant is going through similar issues this season. Despite having a month-long avulsion fracture to his right index finger, he has refused to sit out. He has shot 36.8% in the last seven games, as his finger continues to get bumped and bruised through contact. 

Whether it's good for the team or not, Jackson isn't forcing Bryant to sit. So that means his finger can prove to be the difference in this trip and can determine how quickly he becomes the 15th player to eclipse 25,000 career points (Bryant needs 19 more).

"If it's a close game, I believe I can come back," Bryant said, drawing laughs from reporters. "I really do."

Pau Gasol

Inside presence of Gasol and Odom

Gasol's stat line of 17 points and 11.2 rebounds doesn't exactly do justice to the impact he brings to the team. This stat line does, though: The Lakers are 21-3 with him this season and are 11-6 without him.

Particularly with Bynum's illness, the team has welcomed Gasol's return after missing six games with a left hamstring injury with open arms. And he hasn't wasted time in his return

Gasol complemented Bynum, with the two each posting 20 points Friday in a 126-86 victory over the Clippers. He followed up with a double-double (17 points, 10 boards) against the Magic, while also holding Orlando center Dwight Howard to one field goal in the second half after he scorched Bynum for 18 first-half points.

Meanwhile, Odom's offensive production has fluctuated, partly because of his acceptance to fulfill a utility role and partly because of his tendency to play tentatively. But he's uncompromising on the glass, grabbing at least 10 boards in seven of 10 games this month.

Gasol and Odom had a similar presence in last season's trip. Gasol averaged 24.8 points and 12 rebounds in last season's six-game stretch, including double-doubles in the last four games of the trip. Odom posted double digits in all six contests, and recorded season-highs of 28 points and 17 rebounds against Cleveland.

With Gasol having already gone through last season's grinding trip, he didn't express worry over this upcoming one.

Said Gasol: "This team has the depth and experience to be successful with back-to-backs."

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Top photo: The Lakers' Lamar Odom has a pretty good grip on Cleveland's Anderson Varejao during their Christmas Day game at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Second photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant slips past Orlando forward Matt Barnes along the baseline during a drive in the first quarter Monday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

Third photo: Orlando's Ryan Anderson tries, and fails, to stop a dunk by Lakers center Andrew Bynum in the second quarter Monday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

Bottom photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol drives past Orlando's Rashard Lewis for a layup in the first quarter Monday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

 
Comments () | Archives (10)

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I wonder about these Devin Harris rumors. If we follow the trend of Laker rumors vs actual Laker acquisitions, then the Harris rumors probably mean we'll be trading for Jeff foster.


But what I find interesting about these rumors is that they might show that Dr Buss is willing to pay to upgrade the PG position long term. And if this is the case, if Dr Buss has decided to pay to better round out this team, then I have to believe that we're going to see an upgrade at the position sometime soon. If it boils down to Mitch's ability to match expiring Laker contracts and draft picks for some player we want, I believe Mitch will make something happen.


But why would anyone deal with the Lakers? Because we have a nice 5 million dollar expiring lottery pick contract in Morrison who hasn't had a real look since his rookie year, we have a young talented expiring contract PG in Farmar who could really prosper in a different system and is looking for a starting spot probably more than a dollar amount, and we have 1st round draft picks we're probably looking to trade for established players.


I think an east coast team like the Nets or Bulls would also rather send a PG west than see that player win a ring with Boston or Cleveland.


Honestly, I don't expect any deal to be made, not when we can probably squeeze another playoff run out of Fisher and not when the Lakers have 10 million coming of the books with Morrison's departure. And, I'm super sure we'll have vet PGs like Andre Miller or whomever knocking down our door to play for a ring after the season, and especially after the first round of 2010 free agents have found their destinations.

Wes

Zaira,

In a previous thread you said:

"I guesss LeBronze's pr next move to make not so bright people buy his "greatness" will be change the definition of winning attitude in the Thesaurus.
Shifting it from "behaviour defining a mental state that tends and LEADS to effective victories" to "behaviour defining a mental state that WISHES victories, never achieves them and then brainwash people around to make you believe that victory actually happened."
EWWW.

Bill SWimmons is on some sort of HUGE mind-altering stuff.

LOL."

---------------------------------

OH. MY. GOD! That was an amazing post. I laughed out loud, which is a problem here at work. Especially since I'm a teacher. Got some weird looks. I love how you put it. Kobe is about WINNING attitude. LeBronze is about WISHING attitude, then a little revisionist history to clean things up.

Brilliant. Brilliant!

But, isn't it true that it is supposed to be the victors that get to engage in revisionist history? How did LeBronze wind up with that power without winning anything.

BTW, I'd sell one of my kids if Shaq could somehow get LeBronze and Kobe to participate in the same dunk contest. Especially if something interesting were on the line, and the proceeds went to Haiti. I don't think LeBronze is creative enough to beat Kobe. Athletic enough, but not creative enough.

--FEARless

I think Pau should be well rested after his long rest recovering from his hamstring strain. Luke should be well rested too and have a chance to get back in the flow. We will need some minutes from the bench.

KOBE is the one I am worried about. With so many back to backs, he will have little time to recover from the bumps he will get on that sore finger. Maybe we will see more of "Kobe, the facilitator".

It could happen. If it does, MAYBE we will see some good production from Bynum. This could be his opportunity to garner some respect from Mr Bryant.

It would be nice if the Lakers can get the first one in Cleveland. For once the Cavs game is more important than the Celts game.

Good morning Mamba24 & the fabulous Laker morning CRUE!!!


GAME DAY BABY - YYYYEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Ok - enough chit chat. I just got caught up reading the last few threads (whew - MM slow down!)and I've got to say I felt the love.... and then not so much....

Rick Friedman - thanks. C U on the live chat later!


Jon K - your post in reply to D.r. didn't include you sticking up for me... WTH?! I thought we were good.... :) I may not be a great blogger like hobbit, etc but in my mind I add a little something to the day. (I'm actually AWESOME in my mind, but that's another story!) LOL!


And D.r. - I know who the blog originals are and always give them respect. What are you talking about??? I've been around for a few years now, and only really ever call out the newbies who presume to know what they're talking about. I DO NOT think everyone's a newbie......

Hobbit & Nez - I'm just not feeling "trade" at this time. Bosh may be a good player, but I still believe Andrew's upside is bigger and will be for longer. WHO wouldn't want Bynum right now?? Seriously. We are the envy of the league. And regarding Nate, COME ON. The guy is walking cancer with a big mouth. He may have talent, but WE have talent. I'd rather have "teachable talent" than "big-mouth talent" every time.

Well - enough from me. I hope I've added a little something to your day. Maybe a smile. A chuckle perhaps. Anyone care for a mint?

GO LAKERS!!

Nothing but another title will suffice.

I think 6-2 on this road trip would be very respectable. Probably split the Cavs-Celtics and lose to one of the others. Unlike last year, Kobe's not in very good condition healthwise, so he's not likely to have any miraculous 4th quarters. I expect the rest of the team to pick up their game, but not have the go-to power to pull out the close ones at the end.

And I continue to be amused by the "traders" and the "elder-bashers" that have emerged on the blog. You guys already seem to be forming your own group here, so I suggest you also ought to share the same signature at the end of your posts. Something to highlight your shared propensities and hostilities. Something like the following (with apologies to Jon K.):

"What do we post for? TRADES!!!

Trade Bynum Today... Trade Luke Tomorrow... Trade Somebody (ANYBODY!) Forever.

GO TRADERS!!!!"

Zaira - agree with Fearless - WINNING > WISHING every time LOL!!


However - Fearless - you'd be willing to sell one of your kids??? Don't make me hurt you.... LOL!

MarkG - I respectfully disagree. I really don't think this game is a "must win". Don't get me wrong - I want to win. I want to pound them into the ground.... leave them in our dust..... and any other expression you could think of that would include Princess Jimmy being humilated and Snaq O'Meal crying like a little girl. That said - if we did lose - I'll be upset but I know the sky will not fall, the sun will still rise in the morning, and we will still repeat. I know it. We got this.

Guys a new post is up. feel free to comment in both of the posts this morning. i'll approve both

MM

FEARless, Justa...
I know I sound like I really don't respect James, but in fact I do see and reckon he's a great basketball player.
He hasn't switched at all from "champion" to "great champion" in my book.
He is flawless from the physical point of view, he has an enormous presence and sure he can play.
But he has an attitude that doesn't work with me, he's not very bright and the reason he's so pumped stays all in the marketing department.
That's not very much sport to me.
Hence my deep, deep disliking of him.

The winner in sport is just something LeBron is not. And it's not about how many rings he gets or will get. It's about the way to reach those rings. He has the style of a caveman. And this, being him already 25, will hardly change. Especially considering all the "yessir" senseless choir that surrounds him.

But really: I do see he is a champion. Who wouldn't.

I simply don't like bandwagons not supported by evidences. Never will.

LeBron is a human bandwagon wandering from nothing to nothing.

;)

Great Post, Mark! thanks for all your good work!

martin


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