February is all about the road for the Purple & Gold as 12 of their 15 games will be played on another team’s floor (one is against the Clippers so it’s essentially a home game, but will technically still be played on the other team’s floor and all the cutesy cheerleaders, drum lines, and super-fans looking to jump ship for a buck that comes with that).
The combined records of the Lakers opponents is a sparse 287-380 (as of games ending the night of January 30th), or 43%, with only six of those games coming against team’s with a winning record. Seven of the games are against team’s currently slated to make the playoffs.
After playing Detroit to finish out January, the Lakers travel across international boundaries to meet up with Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors (2/1). This will be the first meeting between the teams this season after each defended their home court last year. The Raptors started slow, but are 7-3 in their last 10 games and sit in fifth place in the East.
After taking Saturday off, the team gets back to action early on Super Bowl Sunday with a noon eastern start against the Wizards (2/3) in DC. Gilbert Arenas has missed the majority of the season, but the Wiz have continued to chug along behind Antawn Jamison and an all-star season for ex-Laker Caron Butler. “Tough Juice” has been hobbled of late and might not play in this one.
The second back-to-back of the roadie starts with the New Jersey Nets (2/5) before the long journey down the coast to meet the Atlanta Hawks (2/6). New Jersey sits in a state of disarray after Jason Kidd’s trade request and their play shows it. They’re gripping the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, but are still just 19-26 overall and 1-9 in their last ten games. The Nets downed the Lakers earlier this season at STAPLES Center in one of the Lakers most disappointing losses of the season.
The Hawks sit a half game and one playoff spot ahead of the Nets as their young core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, & rookie Al Horford try to figure out this “winning” thing. The game in Atlanta will be a tough one when you factor in the travel schedule.
Dwight Howard & the Magic (2/8) are next up. Orlando got the best of the Lakers here, but Howard was kept in check by the emerging Andrew Bynum. With Drew back in LA for this one it could be tough for the Lakers to handle a guy a guy averaging 22 points & 15 boards a game.
After meeting for consecutive marquee Christmas Day matchups, the Lakers and Heat (2/10) meet for the first time this season in mid-February and while this one is on ABC, the NBA has to be happy that it’s not giving this one top billing. Miami has been on of the biggest surprises in the league this year, but for all the wrong reasons. They carry the second worst record in the league and are a lock to be praying on ping-pong balls in May.
The third back-to-back of the road trip puts the Lakers in Charlotte against a Bobcats (2/11) team that made significant changes in the off-season, but haven’t seen any changes in the win column. Still, they’re in the thick of the playoff hunt in the wacky east. The longest road trip in team history finishes up against the T’Wolves in Minnesota (2/13).
The All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time. After the Grammy’s trip the players will get five days off before facing the Atlanta Hawks (2/19) in their first home game of the season. Only Kobe Bryant and Jordan Farmar will have responsibilities during the break.
A return to the road the next night takes the team to Phoenix to finish up the season-series with the Suns (2/20). The Lakers cruised in the first two meetings, but let the Suns get the best of them in the third meeting.
Two-days in between games will be the only extended break of the month (save for the league mandated all-star break) before the team takes to the red & blue STAPLES Center floor bearing the Clippers logo (2/23). Our hallway neighbors haven’t been struck hard by the injury bug, but have seen Elton Brand’s condition improve and he could be available by this time in late February.
The month ends with four games in the final six days, two at home, two in the Pacific Northwest, and two against the Blazers.
The Sonics are up first (2/24). It took a huge effort by Kobe to beat the Supies the last time the Lakers visited Key Arena. Then it’s back to LA for the first meeting with one of the surprise teams of the season—the Portland Trailblazers (2/26). The Blazers young core has come together much quicker than anyone could have expected after they lost Greg Oden before the season began. The Blazers are dangerous and will pose a challenge both in LA and on the second night of a back-to-back in Portland (2/29). Miami is sandwiched in between these games (2/28).
The Lakers play as many games (15) in the calendar’s shortest month as they do in any other month and most are on the road. If the schedule was flip-flopped and the Lakers played 12 of these at home you could be looking at a very strong month. With them on the road, and with Lakers ever growing injury list, it’s just going to be about survival for the boys in Purple. As competitive as the Western Conference is this year, there is no time to let up or you could find yourself starring up at the playoff race instead of in the thick of it.