By Graham Brunell
Talk of an "easy" Lakers schedule has overwhelmed the Lakers'
hyped up league-leading record at this point. Prior to a road trip that
snuck up on this LA team, who in actuality handled the travellin' swing
very well, the team was only forced to endure four road games. A circus
we called it. We were infuriated with the league's terribly poor judgment
and conspicuous efforts to strengthen Los Angeles' shoulders as the
LA train heads into a Christmas day matchup facing the shored-up Cleveland
Cavaliers. If this season goes down as one of the most competitive ever
in modern basketball history, which it looks like it will as the number
of teams contending is astounding, the Lakers' first half schedule will
be viewed as nothing except notoriously epic proportions.
But… wait… ONLY first half? But good god — this is a humiliating
travesty on the league! FOUR road games in just 22 games Graham! FOUR!
For those of you that haven't caught on yet, the NBA season is compiled
of 41 home games in 41 road games for each individual team. Whether
it be balanced perfectly throughout the season or lacking congruence
between the season's halves, the Association, by law, must put in a
certain amount of home and road games. Following that law… the Lakers
are going to get absolutely punished in the second half. They will be
tested to their greatest limits. I hate to say it, because in a sense
I was just a smidge excited for Kobe last season when LA won (mainly
because I don't like Stan Van Gundy and ESPN could quit regurgitating
everything Kobe said that involved the C-word), but there's no doubt
Los Angeles caught a few breaks last season. And hey, to win,
you have to. Regardless, without Boston at least on their backs, the
Magic not having a consistent Jameer Nelson due to injury, the Rockets
missing Yao, the Nuggs falling off after pumping us up during the first
four games of the WCFs, the Spurs not being a factor… etc., etc.,
Los Angeles' road was more paved than it could've been.
This year though, the dam will hold. The lucky breaks will come, but
in a less granting and fortunate manner. By the time they reach that
favorable occasion, they'll be gasping for breath, whereas last year
it seemed as if Showtime was rewarded without doing much of anything.
Boston, despite the general nags of the season, will be ready to box
in the final round. The Magic, while losing some defensive skills, have
in my mind one of the two best offenses in the league when firing on
all cylinders. The maturation of Carmelo Anthony and the sustained beat
of Carmelo Anthony has kept the Nuggets as steady as ever. The Spurs,
ignoring their struggles early on for a moment, have the leadership
to take down any ship in the league that they please. And to make up
for the Rockets falling off the map, we have Portland coming in as contenders,
Phoenix shocking the world with their start (and relative health), and
even teams like Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Chicago lurking, not to climb
to the ultimate stage, but to knock off another squad's hopes. Ya know…
just for the spite of it.
The lingering question is though, WHY will that dam hold? What's stopping
them from trucking along like they did before? The simple answer is,
the road from here on out.
It all started last Saturday, when the Lakers were challenged with their
first legitimate road trip all season. Teams like Milwaukee, Utah, Chicago,
and Detroit all had their teeth ready to snap, to get a brief taste
of what it would be like strangling a contender. Three out of four where
left without blood to spare except for their own, as only Utah achieved
a victory (in fact, on the first game of the swing). OK. That's fine.
The Lakers have already shown us they can win the important games, especially
when heading into an even tougher stretch.
And trust me, this thing gets pretty gritty. It was predictable that
the Lakers wouldn't erode this quickly, or this fast. Afterall, it's
only their first swing… of many, many, more.
They come home to a spry Oklahoma City team and then attempt to stifle
a deep Cleveland Cavaliers team, both games at home… after a five
game road trip. Then they go on a two-game trip, facing a garbage Sacramento
team, but ensuing the first match hulks one of the league's most potent
offenses in the Suns. They come home to Golden State, who feasts on
tired teams thinking that if they can just get this game over with,
they'll gain some momentum. Don't be fooled by the Warriors' logo there.
Then, once again, they face Sacramento. That's a pretty tough stretch,
agreed? You have the raunchy squads clawing for a win and you have the
contenders who'll play physical to notch a W.
The month of January is flat-out insane for LA. After facing GS and
Sac-Town, the Lakes face Dallas, Houston, and the Clips at home (the
Clippers game is technically a road game, but they will face off in
the same stadium no matter what). Los Angeles then steps into the ring
with (in order): @Portland, v. Milwaukee, @San Antonio, @Dallas, v.
LAC, v. Orlando, and then an EIGHT-GAME road trip that involves Cleveland,
Toronto, Washington, AND Boston. That right there is January for the
Los Angeles Lakers.
And I consider February the worst month of the year…
After playing Charlotte and Denver at home, Los Angeles then has the
task of toppling a four game stretch that includes two road games at
Portland and Utah, and home games against Golden State and San Antonio.
They're then penciled in to play three home games against Boston, Philly,
and Denver, and two road games against Memphis and Dallas. So February
too, is a nightmare for the troops camped out in LA.
The last two months of the year aren't glamorous for LA either. They
have two three-game trips that consist of Miami, Charlotte, Orlando,
Phoenix, Golden State, and Sacramento. They have a seven-game stretch
that begins with Minny and Washington at home, then straight into five
road games that have San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, New Orleans,
and Atlanta facing LA; all in those seven games. In the closing days
of the year, they have a four game span with two home games versus Utah
and the Spurs, then the crew travels to Denver and up north to Minnesota.
That is most certainly a frightening future. The Lakers are doomed to
have at least a few players out, unless handed a miracle, and by the
time the playoffs come, they'll be crippled with exhaustion.
It's not a debate whether they have the talent to stay afloat… it's
whether their physical state will be supported by their mental striving
for good welfare and a prosperous season. It's not worth having a discussion
of whether or not they can get past the bulk of those teams on paper…
it's a matter of the potential of their foundation collapsing because
of extreme exertion. It's not solely dependent on injuries or on the
chance of the opposing team laying down because they're the Los Angeles
Lakers… it depends on the size of their tank that can hold their frustrations,
and how much steam can they let off on the court without being negative
It all boils down to the Lakers answering the question of "Can
we do it?", with a sense of pride, confidence, and ability to shield
the pessimistic insight on the team.
Will the Lakers release blood, sweat, and tears? Or shrivel in their
agony, confusion, and misdirection?