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January could be a critical and difficult month for the Lakers

The Lakers' schedule in January looks particularly menacing

The Lakers may be able to hover around .500 through November and December.  The first month of the season will be a challenge, but a road-heavy December could be manageable for the Lakers.

Play shifts back to Staples Center in January, with nine at home (plus a visit to the Clippers). Competition will be tough, as only five opponents in 15 games missed the postseason last year.

One lottery opponent that has improved significantly is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who picked up LeBron James this summer and is rumored to be acquiring Kevin Love soon in trade.  While the Miami Heat are likely to dip considerably, they still have a respectable, veteran roster.

The Lakers open up 2015 with a pair of home games, hosting the Memphis Grizzlies (Jan. 2) and Indiana Pacers (Jan. 4).

After the Pacers, the Lakers fly up to Portland to take on the Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back. The Lakers typically have a difficult time winning in Portland, even when well rested.

The Lakers' next five games are at Staples Center, starting on the "road" on Jan. 7 at the Clippers, followed by the Orlando Magic (Jan. 9), Trail Blazers (Jan. 11), Heat (Jan. 13) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Jan. 15).

Next up is a four-game trip, starting in Utah on the second night of a back-to-back (Jan. 16). The Lakers then travel to the Phoenix Suns to play their Pacific Division rival for a fourth and final time this season. (Jan. 19).

The road trip wraps up with stops in New Orleans (Jan. 21) and San Antonio (Jan. 23). The Lakers finish the month with three home games, hosting the Houston Rockets (Jan. 25), Washington Wizards (Jan. 27) and Chicago Bulls (Jan. 29).

The Lakers play on consecutive nights just twice in January.  The team is scheduled to be on national television four times (TNT and NBA TV).

Nine of the 15 games are at home in January, but last year's squad won just 14 at Staples Center all season. The Lakers should certainly be better through the 2014-15 season, simply by staying healthy -- but how much better?

January could be a key stretch for the Lakers to climb above .500, by defeating quality opponents at home -- but a more realistic win-count for the Lakers may be 21-23 in 47 tries.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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