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Newsletter: The lessons Lakers learned from two weeks on the road

Lakers forward Anthony Davis tries to make a basket while two Celtics players stand nearby.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis looks to score against the Celtics during a game Jan. 30 in Boston.
(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

Thanks for allowing me into your inbox. Move over, clothing store outlet sale. See you later, home mortgage pitch or new apartment listings.

I know what’s in email inboxes because what else have I’ve been able to do for these last two weeks but read them with the Lakers on the road and the pandemic raging.

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The road trip was long — like my-son-knows-like-40-new-words long — which means we’ve got a whole new batch of information to dissect. And that’s exactly what Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after one of my questions during the trip — that you wait to the end to look at something like a road trip as anything bigger than a collection of games.

As Vogel and the team spend a minute or two reflecting on what they went through, let’s go back and pick one lesson from each of the Lakers’ seven games on their trip.

Jan. 21 at Milwaukee, 113-106 win

LESSON: Do your job and no more.

Only one player in the NBA this season has scored 20 or more points without attempting a single two-point shot — and it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope against the Bucks.

He struggled throughout the trip, but the Lakers don’t win in Milwaukee without his shot-making and motion. And the Lakers don’t need much more from him than that.

“The confidence is from the work I’ve put in,” he said in Milwaukee. “I know where my shots are going to come from, where I need to be to even get those shots and just being in a great rhythm every game, trying not to worry about missing shots.”

Jan. 23 at Chicago, 101-90 win

LESSON: Just put Anthony Davis in the same vicinity of deep dish.

Davis said he didn’t have any of his favorite pizza, Giordano’s, before the game (I’m a Lou Malnati’s guy), but just being back in Chicago helped Davis look like, well, Anthony Davis.

He took 21 shots — the Lakers are 4-0 when he’s attempted at least 20 this season — and he scored 37. In the games where Davis has scored 25 of more this season? The Lakers are 6-0 (it happened two other times on the trip).

“We want to make sure we’re playing through him as much as possible,” Vogel said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys on this team, so there’s been times early in the season where myself, and even AD, has been trying to get other guys comfortable. We knew this week, the beginning of this trip, was a time to really start having him be more assertive.”

Jan. 25 at Cleveland, 115-108 win

LESSON: Seriously, just leave LeBron James alone.

At the end of the third quarter, James missed a turnaround jumper. The play got one courtside executive so excited, he jumped out of his seat and repeatedly applauded the miss.

James noticed. And then he scored 21 points in the fourth.

“He was really excited about me missing that shot. A little bit more extra than I would have liked,” James said after the game. “But he gotta root for his team obviously. And he was; he showcased that. So I knew I had another quarter, and the fourth quarter’s my favorite.”

Jan. 27 at Philadelphia, 107-106 loss

LESSON: Don’t trust the scoreboard.

This game wasn’t as close as the final score — the 76ers mostly outplaying the Lakers thanks to an inability to keep Joel Embiid off the foul line. Their sort-of fluky run at the end of the fourth almost won them the game.

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But it also wasn’t as bad as it was early in the game, either, when the 76ers ran out of the gates knocking down everything.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win at the end, and it didn’t go our way. But I loved our fight,” James said. “Just gotta do a better job with keeping our hands out of the cookie jar, especially with a guy like Embiid who has [James] Harden-like magic as far as swipe moves and things of that nature.”

Jan. 28 at Detroit, 107-92 loss

LESSON: The Lakers aren’t invincible.

If you would’ve tried to spot the two-game losing streak on this trip, I’m not sure you’d have picked Detroit, even with it being the second night of back-to-back games.

The Lakers sat Davis because of an injured quad (he might’ve been scheduled to sit anyway), and they totally collapsed in the fourth as their shots stopped falling.

“I don’t think it was an intensity thing, I thought it was more of an execution thing, you know?” Vogel said. “And like I said, the second half when the shot’s not falling, you don’t have a rhythm in the offense, your focus wanes and you do credit Detroit. Detroit played a good basketball game but certainly this is a game we should win.”

Jan. 30 at Boston, 96-95 win

LESSON: Create your own luck.

Daniel Theis had a game-winning put-back layup rim out, a play that would’ve been the Lakers’ third loss in a row. But the “basketball gods,” as Doc Rivers is fond of saying, rewarded the Lakers’ scramble on that final possession, with Alex Caruso’s hustle and, probably more impressively, quick reaction blowing up what could’ve been an easy fastbreak layup.

Forty years ago, Andrea Bassani arrived in Italy with tapes of a Lakers vs. Celtics game as part of an effort to introduce Europe to the NBA.

On the trip, Caruso was plus-44, the second-best plus/minus rating on the Lakers. James was first (plus-48), but he played 119 more minutes.

“Anytime you throw him on the floor he’s always in the plus-column in the plus/minus. He’s playing the right way, he’s affecting the game in a positive way,” Davis said. “So for him to be out there in the closing lineup with us, we trust him, coach trusts him, he’s always coming up and making big plays. That’s what we saw tonight at the end of the game.”

Feb. 1 at Atlanta, 107-99 win

Lesson: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

James has been openly pining for fans in arenas, and he got some. And for the Instagram influencer who got tossed, well she did some influencing — helping the Lakers get a win to finish their trip with a win (and a new meme).

“I love our fans — Laker Nation and everybody else that’s against Laker Nation. It just feels better,” James said. “Fans in the stands is just, it’s just better. It’s better for everybody. Especially on the last game of a 14-day road trip.”

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To the text lines

We asked our Full Court Text family (and it’s growing — sign up here) how they would grade the Lakers’ trip.

Here are the results:

A: 40.2%

B: 35.6%

C: 9.2%

Wake me for the playoffs: 15%

Official margin of error: +/- my rounding/dividing skills

Put it on your calendar

If you joined the watch-a-long for the Bucks game, I hope you had fun talking hoops with J.A. Adande, Howard Beck and myself.

Up next? We’re planning to do a live chat with some special guests for the Nets-Lakers game on Feb. 18. Stay tuned for the details.

Song of the week

“The Only Place” by Best Coast

Trust me, getting home from that late January road trip is almost always an amazing feeling. The winter coats can get packed for a few weeks, the beanies, the gloves, the chapped lips … all of it has to wait for the next trip into the real winter.

Even on cloudy days, it feels sunny. This song captures that off-the-plane vibe.

Best Coast performs “The Only Place”

Since we last spoke ...

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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