The Lakers have gotten off to some painfully slow starts the last few games. But the combination of some strong bench play and home court advantage has made it possible for them to come back and get some fairly lopsided victories. With the home court part gone for the next three games, and the fact that reserve players traditionally aren't as productive on the road, the team is well aware that it should be ready to bring their "A" game from the opening tip.
"Usually teams play better at home," forward Pau Gasol said. "You don't want to come out thinking you have the win guaranteed. We have to go there, play hard and set a tone early on and do what we've been doing."
Since the Lakers are, well, the Lakers, other teams tend to get up for playing against them perhaps more than any other opponent, and usually bring a level of intensity that L.A. has had trouble matching, at least from the outset. Once their bench players check into the game however, the talent disparity becomes evident, and that's usually when the Lakers are able to make their move to take control of the game. Their bench unit is second in the league in scoring at just over 37 points per contest, but Phil Jackson would still like to see them execute better when the game slows down and the team is forced to run more of a half court set.
"They have to be able to execute in the half-court game," Jackson said. "That's what we're really working with this young group at. Runs are good, transition defense, steals -- all those things. They are exploding the game a little bit with their higher-pace game. But then when that pace is over and they're into that half-court, we have to be able to execute."
The Lakers' reserves know they can't rely on the home crowd to pick them up, and that it's going to take more focus to be successful on the road. Sasha Vujacic feels confident though that he and the rest of his bench mates can handle it.
"... on the road, we have to eliminate everything, our surroundings, and just keep our poise. I think we'll be OK. I think we are mature enough and we are playing good enough basketball to win on the road."
The Lakers begin their three game road trip in Indiana, facing a Pacers team that's just 6-10. But the record is a bit deceiving, as Indiana has been one of the most competitive teams in the Eastern Conference, and has been doing so without one of their top players. Mike Dunleavy hasn't played a game for the team this season due to some knee problems, but the Pacers have quality wins over the Celtics, the Nets (twice), and the Rockets. Danny Granger and Troy Murphy are leading the team in scoring and rebounding respectively, and if the Pacers get hot from three-point range (they attempt over 20 threes per game) this one could be closer than expected.