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Long trip a good chance to bond for Lakers

Seven-game trip is the longest for the Lakers this late in a season and they are trying to make the best of it.

March 24, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

OKLAHOMA CITY — Time for the next installment of "penance," as Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been calling the team's season-long seven-game trip.

Booted out of Staples Center for nearly two weeks because of the World Figure Skating Championships, the Lakers pulled off a triple salchow in their come-from-behind victory at Chicago on Saturday.

They'll need another victory tonight in Oklahoma City to stay within a game of Cleveland (57-13) for the league's best record.

The Lakers (55-14) have never had a trip this long so late in the season, and they're trying to make the best of it.

Their opponents haven't won many accolades so far -- Atlanta (42-29) is the only team over .500 -- but the Lakers are more interested in one another these days.

Their second unit showed signs of success against Chicago, and the Lakers were the ones coming back against a large lead, not losing one, as they had done in many recent games.

So now instead of scattering to fill their schedules and commitments after home games and practices, they'll all stay in the same hotels until April 1, collect their individual per diem of $114 and see plenty of each other.

"We need this trip, right?" forward Lamar Odom said. "Guys realize that they need each other and the only way to make it happen is to play with each other. Sometimes I think it's a chemistry thing."

Said Kobe Bryant: "It's great for us, especially this time of year. You can build a lot of momentum from these road trips . . . if they go well. There's obviously a flip side to that, but we believe we can play very well on this trip."

Oklahoma City has actually been playing better than its 20-50 record indicates, winning seven of the last 12 games, many of them without leading scorer Kevin Durant, who recently returned from an ankle injury.

After the Thunder's 97-90 victory against Minnesota on Sunday, Coach Scott Brooks told reporters that former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook was "as good as any rookie in the league right now."

Westbrook is averaging 15.8 points, five assists and 4.8 rebounds for the Thunder.

Second-year forwards Durant and Jeff Green are averaging 26 points and 17.1 points, respectively.

"They're a team that has a great future ahead of them," Jackson said. "They lose a lot of their games close."

Record keeping

Jackson didn't care that the Lakers' opponents on this trip were less than enthralling record-wise.

"I haven't looked at their records," he said. "I know it's difficult to play in Detroit. We haven't won in Detroit in a while, I'm guessing 2002, maybe 2003.

"Jersey's never been a hospitable place to play. And we know what Charlotte does -- it's one of those games that's always been difficult for us.

"We're not counting on anything this trip."

After tonight, the Lakers play Thursday in Detroit (34-35), Friday in New Jersey (30-40), Sunday in Atlanta, Tuesday in Charlotte (31-39) and Wednesday in Milwaukee (31-40).

The Lakers haven't won in Detroit since March 2002 and have lost two of their last three games in Charlotte.

Pace yourselves

Oklahoma City's home crowds have earned opponents' praise because of their volume and energy, though Jackson thought the noise tended to peter out as the game progressed.

"They haven't quite figured out the NBA game, the length of it," Jackson said. "They get all fired up in the beginning, and it's a marathon. It's 48 minutes of basketball. It's not like college, where you can come out and get a 10-point lead or 15-point lead and you can win the game."

Thunder fans stand until the home team scores its first basket and have been compared to college crowds for their intensity.


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