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Long trip presents Lakers with motivated opponents

The seven-game journey includes no great teams, but many are young and trying to get into the playoffs.

March 21, 2009|Broderick Turner

The Lakers' longest trip of the season, which starts with a game tonight in Chicago, doesn't have the same allure as their journey last month when they finished with wins at Boston and Cleveland.

This seven-game, 13-day odyssey has only one opponent with a record above .500 -- the Atlanta Hawks -- and the seven teams have a combined 215-264 record.

Yet in the eyes of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, his squad will face a bunch of young teams with something to prove -- like beating a Lakers team that is one of the favorites to win the NBA championship and proving they haven't given up on a season that has looked lost.

"We have a lot of teams like that that are coming into our realm," Jackson said. "Teams like Chicago that are coming in that have to win to get into the playoffs.

"So we have a lot of motivated people that are coming to play against us, without being simply the fact that we're one of the top teams in the league. So we really have to stay motivated in this time."

The Bulls are 32-37 (but an impressive 21-11 at home), and holding on to the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of Milwaukee, Charlotte and New Jersey, three young teams that the Lakers will face on this trip.

But the Lakers are more concerned about their play.

They have blown leads in their last four consecutive games, losing one game to the Philadelphia 76ers.

"We realize we're a work in progress," guard Derek Fisher said. "We feel like we've grown a lot from last year and we're three wins from our season total from last year. So we definitely have done better in our ability to focus and do what it takes to be the best every time we step on the floor."

But there has been some slippage in play, particularly with the second unit.

However, the Lakers still have the second-best record (54-14) in the NBA, one game behind Cleveland.

"We set that bar [high]," Fisher said. "We talked about it from Sept. 30 to now that this is what we want to do so we're going to be measured by that and we're measuring ourselves by it."

Heavy workload

Pau Gasol has admitted that his increased minutes have taken a toll.

Kobe Bryant shrugged off such talk, whether it was about his playing time or Gasol's, even though both played in last summer's Olympics.

But since Lakers center Andrew Bynum went down Jan. 31 because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, Gasol and Lamar Odom's minutes have increased the most on the team.

Gasol is playing 39.1 minutes since Bynum was injured, compared to his 36.8-minute average for the season.

Odom is averaging 33.5 since Bynum's injury, and 29.1 minutes overall.

As for Bryant, lately he hasn't looked his same energetic self. In the last four games, he has taken only eight free throws.

Bryant has played about the same pace all season, averaging 36.4 minutes a game, and 36.1 since Bynum's injury.

Bonding time

Building chemistry and continuing to develop camaraderie are big benefits the Lakers relish while being on the road.

"We go to dinner, hang out and work on our brotherhood," Odom said. "L.A. is a place where when you're at the practice facility, everybody is their own entity, their own brand, got their own website and got their own thing going on. [On the road] it's just good for us to be able to eat together, to communicate, to see each other.

"It helps us on the court. It's part of being a teammate, being a brother. Your relationship is better when you see each other."


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