Bon voyage, Lakers.
The time has come to depart on a six-game, 10-day trip, a journey in which the Lakers will arrive in two of the NBA’s most treacherous ports, Boston and Cleveland.
Home has been good to the Lakers. Their 23-4 record at Staples Center as the home team is a testament to that. Now they must venture out on the road for 22 of their next 31 games, and overall they have 24 road games left, the most in the NBA.
This six-game trip is the Lakers’ longest so far, and they have another long trip in February with seven games in 12 days.
“I already know what we’re about,” Kobe Bryant said. “We’re a very good road team. I’m not worried about it at all.”
The Lakers are 12-5 on the road. They flew to Minnesota after practice Thursday and took some good news with them.
The NBA informed the Lakers that Andrew Bynum wasn’t going to be suspended for his flagrant foul in Tuesday’s game that put Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace in the hospital with a partially collapsed lung and a fractured rib.
After reviewing the flagrant foul Penalty I called against Bynum, the league raised the foul to a Penalty II. Under league rules, if a player gets six points for flagrant fouls he will be suspended for one game. Bynum now has two points counted against him.
“We’re happy with the NBA’s ruling,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. It means that Bynum will play in tonight’s game against the Timberwolves and their young center, Al Jefferson.
Versatile small forward Trevor Ariza also flew with the Lakers and is listed as day to day. He is trying to overcome a concussion he suffered against the Bobcats. Ariza was examined for a second time Thursday by team physician John Moe and showed slight improvement, although he didn’t practice.
And the last bit of good news was that Pau Gasol was selected to the All-Star team as a reserve by the Western Conference coaches. It’s his second All-Star appearance.
Gasol said the trip won’t be an easy one.
“Teams are too good,” he said. “They are ready for the Lakers to come in, have that big crowd at home and prove to their fans that they can beat the Lakers. So they’re excited about it no matter what. So we’ve got to be ready for it too and take it one game at a time.”
Said Bryant: “On the road you get to learn more about each other and kind of build that chemistry and that bond that you need to go on a long playoff push.”
For many Lakers fans, the games they are looking forward to are the last two, at Boston (Thursday) and at Cleveland (Feb. 8).
The Celtics (38-9) have the best record in the NBA, and have straightened themselves out since the Lakers beat them Dec. 25 and sent Boston on a 2-7 skid. The Celtics have won nine straight.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, along with the Lakers, have the second-best record in the NBA (35-9), are undefeated at home (21-0) and have LeBron James, whom many consider the most-valuable-player favorite right now.
As for the Lakers, they maintain they are not looking past their game in Minneapolis.
The Timberwolves, despite having a 16-28 record, are 10-3 in January.
Then the Lakers face the Grizzlies, a team that played them tough until the end of their game last month in Memphis. Then come the New York Knicks and the Toronto Raptors.
“I’m not overlooking anybody after what happened to us in Florida on that road trip,” said Gasol, referring to how the Lakers began that four-game trip with consecutive losses to Miami and Orlando.
“I’m not overlooking Minnesota, Memphis, neither of those teams, really,” Gasol said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. It’s just the right way. . . . You don’t want to give games away.”