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Lakers' six-game trip will reveal identity

February 1, 2012 | 10:06 am

Change is happening all around.

It shows in the way fans at Staples Center act at games. On Monday night, fans gawked over Clippers forward Blake Griffin posterizing Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins. On Tuesday night, fans snoozed during the Lakers' 106-73 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

It shows with the Lakers' constant lineup changes. Coach Mike Brown has shuffled his small forward spot between Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks more than a Vegas card dealer. He's done the same with rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock since backup point guard Steve Blake suffered a rib injury weeks ago.

It shows in Brown's revelation that he's had discussions with General Manager Mitch Kupchak about acquiring free agents, including point guard Gilbert Arenas.

But the biggest change will hinge on how the Lakers fare in their six-game trip beginning Friday at Denver.

"These are big games for us coming up," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said. “We need to prove that we’re able to win, or else they’re going to start doing things."

Of course, the Lakers' front office has tried that for a while, albeit with unsuccessful results. The NBA-nixed Chris Paul trade. The Lakers' shipping Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks and a second-round pick for an $8.9 million trade exception and first-round selection. The Lakers allowing Shannon Brown to flee to Phoenix without bringing someone in return.

The Lakers' need to acquire Dwight Howard or Deron Williams before the March 15 tradeline won't be answered right away. Yet, the Lakers performance on this trip will largely foreshadow their success should they fail to land either one of them.

Said Lakers forward Pau Gasol: "However that trip goes will tell us where this team can probably get to and where it can't.

That's because the Lakers enter this trip with a 13-9 record, good enough for a sixth seed in the Western Conference. They're 2-7 in road games, and four of their next six road games feature playoff opponents. Denver already gave the Lakers fits New Year's Day when Kobe Bryant shot six for 28 from the field. Bryant may surpass Shaquille O'Neal on the NBA's all-time scoring list Monday at Philadelphia, but the Sixers' resurgence suggests Bryant accomplishing that milestone in his hometown won't necessarily coincide with a win.

On Feb. 9, the Lakers and Celtics will fight out to determine who's the oldest and most brittle, but who cares, it's still a rivalry. And then OK, fine, pencil the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors games as automatic Ws.

And don't expect anything from the Lakers' double-digit win Monday against Charlotte, the NBA's worst team to mean anything.

"I don't think rhythm at home carries over to the road," Bryant said. "At least it hasn't so far. We have to go on the road with a different mentality."

It remains hard to determine what the Lakers' mentality entails since any positive developments appear fleeting.

The Lakers scored at least 100 points for two consecutive game after suffering a 13-game drought where it scored below that number. Brown also noticed the four contact practices last week coincided with the coaching staff instructing more scouting specific preparation than continual emphasis on defensive rotations and offensive sets. But even the optimistic Brown acknowledged that means very little.

"I don't know if anything has 'arrived' for us yet, but we are getting better," he said.

Bynum has showed marked improvement by passing out of double teams and re-posting, a large reason why he scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Charlotte. But he hardly sounded excited about the growth.

Said Bynum: "They're an undermanned squad so we can't take it too seriously."

Goudelock's 12 points marked the third time in four games he's hit double-figures as Bryant's primary backup. Even if it's earned him the nickname, "Mini Mamba," Brown anticipates stronger defenses awaiting. "That's a concern having a rookie," he said.

Finally, Bryant, Gasol and Bynum received reduced playing time. It was a stark contrast to Bryant and Gasol playing the entire second half to secure a win Sunday against Minnesota. But it remains to be seen whether they have to log as many minutes moving forward.

"It's on [the bench] to make the most of it," Bryant said. "If they don't, I have to go back in there, Pau has to go back in there, Andrew has to go back in there and play the entire second half or whatever the case is."

And the Lakers have gone on a two-game stretch where they've allowed an average of 18 offensive rebounds and 23 second-change points. It's conceivable such an effort will prove costlier against better teams.

"“We just got to do our job," Bryant offered regarding the team's trip.

The Lakers will soon find out how suitable they are to that task. Or else they'll experience more changes beyond increased enthusiasm for the Clippers and shuffling starting lineups.

--Mark Medina

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