Up in the air the Lakers went, hoping to have added a center, maybe two, not to mention a half-dozen victories by the time they returned to Los Angeles.
The weak opponents they play won’t be the reason this six-game excursion is remembered, a glaringly large spot in the plot left open for the expected return of Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff next week from their respective knee surgeries.
In fact, the Lakers, eager for Bynum to come back ASAP, moved their departure time to Chicago from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in part to get him some extra work at their training facility.
It was actually planned before rookie Derrick Caracter sustained a sprained left ankle in the Lakers’ last-second victory Wednesday over the Clippers, leaving them with exactly two healthy big men -- Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. (And did the two-time defending champions ever think they’d be holding their breath that Caracter, the third-to-last player taken in the 2010 draft, would be healthy enough to play in their next game?)
Fortunately for the Lakers, their trek through the Midwest and East Coast features a litany of the NBA’s losers, other than the Bulls. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they play the Bulls on Friday.
The trip technically started Wednesday with a designated road game at Staples Center, but the Lakers weren’t exactly out of their element, seeing how they strategized in their own locker room and slept in their own beds that night.
The next six games, however, are important for a variety of reasons.
After beating the Clippers by one, the Lakers are only 6-4 on the road, a blotchy record when compared to other top-notch teams. San Antonio and Dallas are 8-1 on the road, providing little wonder why they are one and two in the current Western Conference standings.
If the Lakers don’t start winning games on this trip, when will their road rage start?
The real tests away from home start later this month with tough games in San Antonio and New Orleans on back-to-back nights. Then in January and February, they go to Dallas, Boston, Orlando, Oklahoma City, New Orleans (again) and Portland, their personal house of horrors.
In other words, nothing less than 5-1, or maybe a worst-case scenario of 4-2, would be acceptable to them on this trip.
Chicago, New Jersey, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia and Toronto are a combined 49-77, with the Bulls (12-8) the only team above .500.
“We want to build some energy, we want to build some confidence of the road,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “It’s kind of like us against everybody. It’s a big deal to come to a game and watch the Lakers get beat on the road. You want to see Kobe play well, but you want to see the home team win, and that’s one of the things we have to counter.”
Truth be told, the Lakers (16-6) struggled at home recently against three of the upcoming teams. They needed 21 points from Shannon Brown to slip past Chicago, they fumbled almost all of a 19-point lead before fending off Washington, and they lost to Indiana as Roy Hibbert outplayed Gasol.
Now they’ll see these teams in different cities, something that must be done as per the laws and norms of a balanced NBA schedule.
“If we can play 82 games at home, I’d play 82 games at home, but being a tough road team is really important, especially when you’re talking about the playoffs,” Odom said.
So the Lakers grabbed their winter coats, their scarves and a handful of hope for their injured big men as they hit the road for their first long trip of the season.
“It should be good for us,” forward Matt Barnes said.
One last look
Derek Fisher was the hero Wednesday with a last-second shot, yet again, blowing past the Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe and barely arching the ball over 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan on a driving layup.
“My man had to take it,” Kobe Bryant said.
Before Fisher’s latest big shot, Jackson credited Shannon Brown’s 57-foot heave at the end of the third quarter as an “energy boost we really needed.”
“We were kind of lagging. Pau had his head down and Lamar looked like he was frustrated out there, so it really kind of picked us up.”
Said Brown: “It looked good out of my hand. I just tried to shoot it with the best form I possibly could.”
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
12-8 | 1ST IN CENTRAL
(leading scorer, 25.1 PPG)
Last visit: Dec. 15, 2009
Lakers 96, Bulls 87
NEW JERSEY NETS
6-17 | 5TH IN ATLANTIC
(leading scorer, 19.1 PPG)
Last visit: Dec. 19, 2009
Lakers 103, Nets 84
6-15 | 5TH IN SOUTHEAST
(leading scorer, 17.4 PPG)
Last visit: Jan. 26
Lakers 115, Wizards 103
10-10 | 2ND IN CENTRAL
(leading scorer, 21.6 PPG)
Last visit: Jan. 27
Lakers 118, Pacers 96
5 DEC. 17
7-15 | 4TH IN ATLANTIC
(leading scorer, 15.5 PPG)
Last visit: Jan. 29
Lakers 99, 76ers 91
6 DEC. 19
8-14 | 3RD IN ATLANTIC
(leading scorer, 21.2 PPG)
Last visit: Jan. 24
Raptors 106, Lakers 105
How the Lakers have fared on trips of at least five games since the 1999-2000 season.
*--* Season Trips of 5+ games Total 1999-00* 6-0 4-1 -- 10-1 2000-01* 4-2 3-2 -- 7-4 2001-02* 3-2 4-1 4-1 11-4 2002-03 3-3 -- -- 3-3 2003-04 4-3 -- -- 4-3 2004-05** 1-4 2-4 -- 3-8 2005-06 5-1 2-5 -- 7-6 2006-07 3-3 3-5 -- 6-8 2007-08 7-2 -- -- 7-2 2008-09* 6-0 5-2 -- 11-2 2009-10* 4-1 5-3 2-3 11-7 *--*
*--Won NBA championship
**--Coached by Rudy Tomjanovich