The Lakers were a team without an identity a year ago, still fighting the stigma of a physically embarrassing loss to Boston in the NBA Finals, when something unexpectedly exceptional happened to them.
They got away from home, found themselves on the road, and rarely, if ever, looked back, going 6-0 and beating Boston and Cleveland in successive games. A few months later came a playoff run that ended with the franchise's 15th championship.
This week they start another big trip and it will be longer and more challenging: 13 days, eight games, three sets of back-to-backs, two big games (Cleveland and Boston) and one visit to the White House. It's a mouthful, but it could have been even more action-packed.
"We're not going to go to Lincoln's bedroom and spend the night there," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers (32-9) are atop the entire league, one game ahead of Cleveland (32-11), though there are whispers about their very thin "road" column in the NBA standings.
The imbalance in the Lakers' schedule is laughable, 23-3 at home but only 9-6 on the road; their 15 road games are six fewer than Boston's total and 11 fewer than Cleveland's.
With so many home games, it almost feels as if the season has yet to start. The Lakers had five consecutive road games in mid-December, but that was broken up by a brief return home after a loss to Utah in the first game. No such breaks in the action this time.
"I think it'll tell us where we're at," said Lakers forward Ron Artest, projecting his typical confidence. "We feel like we can come out perfect. . . . I don't think anybody will doubt us even though we haven't been out on the road yet."
Going 8-0 might be a stretch on a trip that begins Thursday in Cleveland, particularly because the Cavaliers pummeled the Lakers at Staples Center on Christmas Day, 102-87.
"Obviously, we didn't like that at all," forward Pau Gasol said. "We want to show them that we're the better team. They have confidence now that they can beat us."
The rest of the games, including that other intriguing one waiting near the end, are: New York (17-24), Toronto (21-21), Washington (14-26), Indiana (14-27), Philadelphia (13-27), Boston (27-12) and Memphis (22-18).
The Lakers were pretty impressive at this point last season, blowing past the fact that Andrew Bynum went down in the second game of their trip to match the most successful road outing in team history, a similar 6-0 excursion in 1999-2000. The Lakers outlasted Boston in overtime and ended Cleveland's 23-game home winning streak to take the last two games of the trip.
Can they pull off something similar this season?
"That's hard to say," Jackson said. "We play well for a half, the next night we play well for 20 minutes. We haven't really strung together 3 1/2 quarters or whatever. . . ."
The only guarantee is that something unusual will happen, perhaps more than once.
"Traveling in the wintertime, you never know what's going to happen -- delayed flights or the plane has to be de-iced and you don't get in until 4 in the morning," Jackson said. "Those are always things that are problematic on these types of trips."
Shannon Brown, favorite?
Lakers reserve guard Shannon Brown was supported by legions of followers in the "Let Shannon Dunk" online campaign. Now he also has some fans in the media after being selected for the dunk competition at next month's All-Star weekend.
"I get to see him go up and down the court a lot in Los Angeles. Right now, he's the favorite," said TNT analyst Kenny Smith. "Nate Robinson cannot do the things that Shannon Brown can do."
Fellow TNT analyst Charles Barkley, however, thought the winner would be Robinson, saying the New York guard and two-time dunk champion was "great for the dunk contest."
"Y'all are sleeping on Nate Robinson," Barkley said.
Bynum, suffering from intestinal flu symptoms, was sent home from practice Tuesday after attending a team video session. He is expected to travel on the team plane this morning. . . . Gasol was selected sportsman of the year by the L.A. Sports Council for being the local male athlete whose "performance and character best exemplified the ideals of sportsmanship during the calendar year," according to an LASC release.. . . . At the midpoint of the season, Bryant leads all NBA players in jerseys sold, according to figures released by the league. LeBron James is second and Dwight Howard is third. Gasol is 10th.