Then, there was the December tour of Minnesota, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Toronto that would bring them together, toughen them, make them the Lakers again. They lost three of those and that trip made them wonder again.
So, there stood the Lakers at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, jet waiting, a game at New Orleans tonight, another at Houston two nights later, and at stake the momentum gained by seven victories in nine games and a slight upturn in an otherwise miserable season.
The Lakers can be only about gathering victories at this point, taking them in bunches, and that can't happen if they're going to win only one of every four road games.
"We go out knowing we're capable of doing it," forward Rick Fox said in a corner of the practice gym at El Segundo earlier Tuesday. "The way we're playing at home, it shouldn't be any different once we get in an opponent's arena."
It is, of course. But, the Lakers of three consecutive championships made the best of the road, luxuriating in five-star hotels picked by Jackson, appreciating his habit of spending nights off in the more glamorous of the two towns, coming or going. They've not lost more than 17 road games in any of his three seasons in Los Angeles, which is why, with 14 road losses already, the Lakers find themselves on "a big road trip" -- Kobe Bryant's words -- in mid-January.
, On the road again, with a 17-20 record, with people such as Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban musing on the end of the Laker championship run, and with Shaquille O'Neal still lacking his end-to-end game. These two games, then, could go a long way toward convincing people -- the Lakers among them -- that the Lakers have more left.
"We just have to remember how to win on the road," Bryant said. "It comes down to execution and staying poised."
It wasn't so long ago that the Lakers won in the most intimidating of settings, with nothing more at stake than their three-peat, in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in Sacramento. Seven months later, they're scraping by the Raptors and Nuggets in some of the least threatening environments in sports.
"We can draw from what we have done in the past on the road," Laker guard Brian Shaw said. "But, in this case, flush that stuff down the toilet. We have to do what we've done the last week and a half and establish something on the road, starting with [tonight's] game."
The Lakers are averaging 93.2 points on 42.2% shooting on the road, and 100.5 points on 45.4% shooting as the home team at Staples Center. They have regained a sense of their offense in the last two weeks, and they're hoping now their shots continue to drop and that that effort blends into their defense.
The Rockets have an MVP candidate in Steve Francis, but their rookie center, Yao Ming, is the guy everyone wants to see, particularly on Friday night, particularly against O'Neal, particularly with all of the basketball and social implications.
The Lakers have been here before. Remember, they had such big plans for games at Miami, Orlando and Memphis.
"We thought that was a big week," Jackson said. Instead, he concluded, "That was probably one of the lowest weeks of our year."