LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Pau Gasol #16 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after a play in the fourth quarter during the game against the Orlando Magic on January 18, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Lakers got blown out by Cleveland on Christmas Day, but was that just a fluke? We’ll find out tonight when the Lakers head into Cleveland for a rematch.
Can the Lakers match up with the Boston Celtics, one of the few teams with the size to match the Lakers front line? Can the Lakers win on a long road trip, the sign of a real title contender?
We’re going to find out over the next eight games, as the Lakers head out on their longest road trip of the season — and one of their biggest tests.
So far this season the Lakers have racked up the best record in the NBA at 32-9, and they have done that despite Pau Gasol missing 17 games and Kobe Bryant playing with a fractured finger on his shooting hand.
However, the Lakers have not looked like the dominant, fearsome team that some fans expected. They are not going to come near the Michael Jordan Bulls record of 72 wins in a season. The Lakers bench play has been spotty and they have gotten poor production out of the point guard spot.
The question is: Are those the minor chinks in the armor of a title team, or are they fatal flaws that could rise up and bite the Lakers in the playoffs?
That’s a question that gets answered on tough road trips. That is where teams grow and bond and show what they are truly made of.
The Lakers start the trip with likely their toughest game — the Cleveland Cavaliers. And LeBron James, who is having another MVP caliber season (he and Kobe are the front runners right now). The Cavaliers crushed a very flat Lakers team on national television on Christmas. Cleveland may be playing the best basketball in the Eastern Conference right now, and this game is a potential Finals preview, giving the Cavaliers confidence against the Lakers could be a problem later.
The other marquee game on the road trip is Sunday, Jan. 31, when the Lakers head into Boston to take on the Celtics. When healthy, the Celtics are a threat to beat anyone in the league (although Kevin Garnett is out right now) but the lineups don’t matter — when the Lakers and Celtics play it is intense.
Other stops on the road trip include a game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden — where Kobe often puts on a show — and in Memphis, the team that Andrew Bynum has injured his knee against the last two years.
When the Lakers return to Staples Center in early February, they will not be the same team. Lakers fans will know a lot more about them — if this is a team that they know can win a title, or if the Feb. 18 trade deadline just got a lot more interesting.