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Grammys mean Lakers, Clippers, Kings hit the road

With Staples Center occupied, L.A. sports teams live with their annual rite of winter: the long, long road, where teams wear out, or jell, depending on the season.

February 04, 2011|By Kevin Baxter, Lisa Dillman and Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty plans to sleep in today. And given that there isn't much to see in Calgary that he hasn't already seen, he probably will spend the evening going to dinner and movie.

What kind of dinner and what kind of movie don't really matter.

"I don't even know what's out there right now," Doughty says, shrugging.

So much for the glamorous globetrotting of a professional athlete, where life on the road can be both exhausting and boring. Yet it's become a rite of winter for the three tenants of Staples Center who, for 11 of the past 12 years, have been sent packing in late January or February to make room for the Grammy Awards.

This month, however, the odyssey is even longer because the NBA All-Star game will also be played at Staples.

As a result, the Kings find themselves two games into a key 10-game trip while the Clippers begin their own 11-game trip Friday night in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Lakers, who played at Staples Center on Thursday, departed Friday and will be gone for seven games.

In the past, the time away from home has served as both a wake-up call and a last call, alternately bringing teams together and pushing them apart just as their playoff drives are beginning.

The Lakers, for example, have taken memorable strides on each of their last three Grammy trips. They went 7-2 in 2008 and came home with Pau Gasol, who was acquired after their first game on the trip. In 2009, they went 6-0, beating Boston and Cleveland and again coming home with new players, obtaining Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison for Vladimir Radmanovic toward the end of the trip.

Last winter they were 5-3, but one of those wins came in Boston in what turned out to be a championship preview.

"It always comes just in time for our team, and it's important for us right now," Lakers forward Lamar Odom says of the trip. "We're hearing some things being said, people are saying [critical] things. This is a great time to work on camaraderie.

"Not just playing basketball, but off the court, being around each other, going to dinner. I think it's the perfect timing, win, lose or draw."

Doughty agrees.

"When we're at home, the married guys and the guys who have families, they're so busy with their kids they don't have time to go out for dinner or just have a few beers with boys," he says. "That's the good thing about the road. You're able to go for dinner with the boys and talk about things. The road is huge for jelling as a team. And some of your funniest moments as a team are on the road."

Like the time the Clippers, on a trip into Canada, discovered one of their players hadn't bothered to bring a passport.

Or even a driver's license.

The player — who shall remain nameless to protect his dignity — was eventually cleared through immigration after presenting a picture of himself on the cover of a basketball magazine.

But for all the bonding that takes place away from the arena, Clippers forward Brian Cook says the experience of facing a hostile crowd every night can also bring a team together.

"We've basically got to get into a foxhole and become a me-against-the-world type of team," says Cook, who spent four winters traveling with the Lakers. "It's going to be good for us to be on the road and be around each other and continue to form that camaraderie."

The key to making it work is being organized. Cook, for example, makes sure all his bills are paid before he leaves, then checks in on his family through video chats. For the Kings, a dress code that bans jeans and makes sports coats mandatory on the road means oversized suit bags and lots of dry cleaning.

But that's nothing compared to what the three teams' equipment managers will go through.

"It took me several hours," says the Clippers' Pete Serrano, in his 27th season in the NBA, as he packed earlier this week. "I packed 90% of the items we need for trip; just bringing a few extra things of things we'll go through, like socks, more shoes for the players."

Adding to the challenge is the fact the Bucks, the seventh team the Clippers face on the trip, have decided to wear throwback jerseys that clash with the Clippers regular road uniforms. That means Serrano has to ship alternate uniforms to Milwaukee.

"I have to haul our white uniforms and white shoes for that one game. All the little bits, all the little accessories," Serrano says. "It's a giant puzzle. But I have all the pieces to it."

The Clippers, like the Kings, have broken their trip into segments, returning to L.A. after eight games for the All-Star break before heading out again five days later. The Kings will come home twice, giving players a chance to attend to their dry cleaning but adding a few thousand miles to their itinerary in the process.

"The travel is hard," says Kings Coach Terry Murray, whose team will cover nearly 10,000 miles in 23 days, playing in two countries, five states, one Canadian province and four time zones. "It's packing up and getting in late at night. And getting yourself emotionally ready to play the next day. That's always going to be the challenge.

"So you've got to rest. You've get to get proper nutrition. Rehydrate. You're in the air, you're going to lose a lot of fluid through your body just through flying. So paying attention to the all the details is critical."

Like remembering to bring your passport.

Baxter reported from Calgary, Canada; Dillman reported from Atlanta; and Bresnahan reported from Los Angeles.

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