ÂThe first game back from a road trip is always the toughest… (Leon Halip / US Presswire )
Less than 12 hours after returning from a grueling trip, the Lakers got back to work Monday to prepare for Oklahoma City tonight at Staples Center.
And to hear the Lakers tell it, that game will be just as challenging as the five on the road, the last four of which they won despite dealing with Eastern snowstorms and curtailed sleep.
"The first game back from a road trip is always the toughest one, but we'll be ready," Kobe Bryant said after the team practiced at its training facility in El Segundo.
Why? "Not sure, I think just all the traveling and your body getting [acclimated] again to the time zone, and trying to get back into a routine," said Bryant, who is second in the league in scoring with an average of 28.8 points per game.
Pau Gasol agreed, even though he said that having to practice so soon after returning home "was a struggle."
"But coming back from a long road trip, we have to get our bodies going, otherwise the first game is always a little sluggish and we don't want that to happen," Gasol said.
The four consecutive wins improved the Lakers' record to a league-best 22-4 nearly one-third of the way through the regular season.
Coach Phil Jackson said that if he had to pick one reason why the reigning NBA champions are off to such a strong start, it would be "great scheduling for home court." The Lakers have played 17 home games so far versus nine on the road.
"We've run up a record that's appropriate for a team of our skill," Jackson said, with "four more games left to finish out December [against] good opponents.
"Oklahoma is a .500 team, but other than that, Sacramento is way up there . . . Phoenix is always a very tough matchup on their home court, Cleveland is a challenge regardless."
The Lakers play the Cavaliers and LeBron James at Staples Center on Christmas Day.
And despite their record, the Lakers need to keep improving on offense, Jackson said.
"I thought we could do some better execution," he said of their play on the trip. "A lot of our skills offensively I think eroded a little bit. That happens when you don't have practice time and you don't put in the kind of time you have to have to . . . get the timing and rhythm you need on offense."
Bryant said the fractured index finger on his right hand "will probably bother me for a month or so."
As for making adjustments to compensate for the injury, Bryant said, "I have to protect it a lot more, particularly on defense. Offensively, handling the ball is still a little bit of an issue, shooting sometimes."
Even so, the finger didn't stop him from scoring 42, 39, 29 and 28 points against Chicago, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Detroit on the trip that ended Sunday.
Bryant on Monday was named Western Conference player of the week.
Having agreed in principle to a three-year contract extension, Gasol said he still needs to take a physical to get the deal completed.
"Once it's done and signed and finalized, I'll be extremely happy and thankful once again," he said. "I'm definitely in a good place and I'm excited about it."
The deal could be worth up to $64.7 million and would keep him under contract through the 2013-14 season.
Jackson said the extension was "a statement to Laker fans and the NBA that the Lakers are committed to really putting a good team on the floor for the next few years."