With their win Wednesday night against Minnesota, the Lakers pulled down an impressive seven wins on their season-high nine-game road trip. The win also marked the most victories for a team on a continuous road trip with nine or more games since neutral sites were eliminated in 1974-75. Moreover, the Lakers were forced to adjust to the acquisition of forward-center Pau Gasol halfway through a trip with limited practice time.
Although the trip started out a bit rocky with a one-point loss to the Pistons in a game the Lakers should have won, the team rallied to win their next three games, beginning with a 121-101 blowout of the Raptors.
Clearly energized by news that 2006 All-Star Pau Gasol was on his way to L.A., the team hammered the Washington Wizards behind 30 points from Kobe. Bryant in particular seemed to play with an extra step after hearing that a bona fide star was preparing to join him.
Amid intense buzz in his first game against New Jersey, Gasol showed the Lakers exactly why they traded for him, scoring 24 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in another easy Lakers win over the Nets.
However, playing on the second night of a back-to-back caught up to the Lakers against the Hawks as they were outscored 30-19 in the fourth quarter and wound up losing 95-98. Gasol’s unfamiliarity with the team also showed in that game, as he was much less effective, scoring only 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
A clutch 117-113 win against the Atlantic Division leading Orlando Magic helped stymie any negative momentum though as the Lakers began to display the chemistry that was missing against Atlanta.
The Lakers followed up on their Florida success, beating the new-look Miami Heat two days later in Shawn Marion’s debut. The Bobcats were next on the agenda, but L.A. had no problem brushing them aside either, defeating Charlotte 106-97. In that game, Gasol (26) and Bryant (31) teamed up for an outstanding 57 points.
With only one victory separating the Lakers from history, L.A. manhandled the Timberwolves 117-92 behind Lamar Odom’s triple double (10 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) to give the Lakers a 35-17 record heading into the All-Star break—their best since the 2002 season.
All things considered, the team could easily have gone 9-0 on the trip if it weren’t for the one point loss against Detroit and the late-game meltdown against the Hawks.
While San Antonio has received league-wide attention for their infamous “Rodeo Trip” over the past few years, the Lakers have similarly embarked on extended trips since the Grammy Awards took over STAPLES Center in February for two-three weeks years ago. For the battle-tested Spurs, the road trip often served to unite their championship teams, providing them with a sense of mettle heading into the season’s final stretch. However, even though the Spurs went 6-3 on their trip this season, it looks like it is the Lakers who benefited most looking forward to the playoffs.
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