Road Trip Preview: San Antonio/Dallas

In case the team didn’t get the memo prior to their loss versus the Suns last week, the easy part of the schedule is officially over. After a momentum-boosting win against the Nuggets at home on Sunday, the Lakers head to San Antonio for part one of the Texas two-step tonight. AT&T Center has historically been one of the toughest arenas to win in–especially if you’re the Lakers.

The last time Kobe and Co. faced off against the Spurs, they were without two of their biggest weapons–Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. San Antonio still managed to put up a valiant fight though, losing by five 102-97 despite an obvious lack of offensive punch. In their first meeting on Nov. 13, the Spurs manhandled the Lakers, showing what they’re capable of when at full strength. However, San Antonio has lost all five games this month against teams over .500 and suddenly looks more vulnerable than it has in years. As will be the case until Andrew Bynum returns, the Lakers need someone else besides Kobe to step up. Against Denver, Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar carried that torch in a balanced effort the Lakers need to repeat if they hope to beat the Spurs.

Friday’s battle against Dallas presents a new kind of enemy for L.A. as the team has yet to face the Mavericks this season. After a slower than expected 12-8 start, the Mavs have rebounded nicely, compiling a 27-13 record that is good enough for fourth best in the conference, one half game behind the Lakers heading into the game against the Spurs.

Many questioned how Dallas would respond this season after losing in shocking fashion to the Golden State Warriors in last year’s playoffs. However, after a slow start of his own, perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has responded well, averaging over 22 points and almost nine rebounds a night.

Before embarking on the mini road trip, Coach Phil Jackson said the team’s goal was to win one of the two games and to remain close in the other with a chance to steal a second game. With the team still rediscovering its identity after recent injury news, Jackson’s expectations seems realistic.