The Los Angeles Lakers returned home from the seven-day Grammy road trip to find themselves just about where they left off: three and a half games out of the playoffs and four games under .500.
However, the trip was not exactly a waste of time.
First of all, the Lakers learned that they can consistently rely on Earl Clark at home or on the road. The fourth year forward out of Louisville averaged 12.7 points and 9.4 rebounds during the trip. With Pau Gasol injured in Brooklyn, Clark’s production became exponentially more vital to the Lakers.
Secondly, the injury to Gasol forced Dwight Howard to return shrug off his own ailments because the team was in need. Whether or not Howard was due to come back against Boston anyway remains a mystery, but Gasol’s injury led to some public comments by Kobe Bryant asking the center to come back and help the team. Regardless of whether those comments were the catalysts for Howard’s return, the Lakers now have the 27 year-old on the floor. They needed that.
As a side note, the Gasol injury definitely made the Lakers more reliant on Howard—something that may pay dividends if the Lakers can get it right and start winning.
Finally, the seven-game road trip provided evidence that the Lakers are good enough to be in the playoffs. Competing against a Miami team on the road that featured LeBron James playing about as well as anyone has ever played in the history of the NBA should have been a massive wakeup call.
The Lakers may not be able to beat the Heat at the moment, but they are still good enough to play on the same court as the defending champions. Thus, the Lakers should have confidence that they are good enough to beat 80 percent of the league—incidentally, an 80 percent winning percentage the rest of the way would almost guarantee a playoff spot.
As it stands, if the Lakers make the playoffs, they will either face the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Without home court advantage in the playoffs, the Lakers need to continue to improve and compete on the road to have any chance of making noise if they qualify for the playoffs.
With all that said, the Lakers need to finish strong before the All-Star break, develop the Howard and Bryant partnership, and put together a winning stretch of games to enter the playoffs hot.